LAS VEGAS -- A packed room of Chrysler Group dealers were described as "visibly emotional" and "misty-eyed" after watching a preview of the automaker's two-minute Super Bowl commercial Sunday morning during their make meeting led, unexpectedly, by Chrysler-Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne.
"People had to compose themselves after seeing it," said David Kelleher, chairman of the National Chrysler Dealer Council. "It blows people away."
The halftime ad featured actor Clint Eastwood giving the nation what amounts to a pep talk, drawing parallels between the game and what both the nation and Chrysler have endured in recent years.
Dealers predicted it would drive new customers to their dealerships, though not for a specific product, as the automaker's "Born of Fire" Super Bowl commercial did for the Chrysler 200 last year.
"It isn't about product. It's a statement. They're going in a different direction, and that's good," said Brian Kitagawa, president of I. Kitagawa and Co. Unlike most Chrysler dealers, Kitagawa's two Chrysler dealerships in Hilo, Hawaii, had flat sales last year because of the island's stagnant economy.
After the meeting, dealers said most of the questions dealt with service issues and warranty support from the automaker.
"Some dealers are expressing a need for Chrysler to get a little more engaged in fixed operations," said Don Lee, president of Lee Auto Malls of Westbrook, Maine. His dealerships' sales were up 32 percent in 2011. "But if all we're going to talk about is service and parts issues, that's OK," he said.
Dealers said they were surprised and pleased that Marchionne led off their meeting. It was the first time he has appeared before a Chrysler dealer gathering since October 2010, as Chrysler was launching its product onslaught.
Peter Grady, Chrysler Group's vice president for network development and fleet, said the service and warranty issues brought up by dealers were "not unfixable issues. It's just a matter of fixing it and moving on."