DETROIT -- Al Gardner has headed the Chrysler brand for about a year. He was charged in May with guiding the brand's transformation from a niche player to Fiat Chrysler's mass-market brand to compete with Chevrolet and Ford.
That transformation started in 2014 with overhauls of its two sedans, the Chrysler 200 and 300. Due next is a redesign of the Town & Country minivan. It will continue with a new compact Chrysler 100 and other vehicles before 2018.
Gardner, 51, spoke with Staff Reporter Larry P. Vellequette about how Chrysler will fill the market left by Dodge and find its own customers.
Q: Now that Chrysler is Fiat Chrysler's volume brand, what will Chrysler be able to give customers at the entry level to get them into the brand?
A: What we know today is that the Dart's an extremely good car, but its average transaction price is on the higher end of the compact car segment. Seventy percent of the volume in that segment is all done at $20,000 or $21,000 and below. Dart is very good at selling above $21,000. We need high fuel economy of 39 or 40 mpg, we need a price point that can sell and transact in the 70 percent of the segment that is sub-$20,000, and we can do that. We know how to do it, we have the technology to do it, and the simple reason for that is our brethren across the pond at Fiat.
It's now a question of timing. We announced May 6 that the lineup for Chrysler would include a 100, 200, 300, Town & Country, etc. Chrysler will be that mainstream volume player, and in order to do that, you've got to be able to play in that compact car segment.
With Chrysler's broader mission, does it need a new marketing strategy?
I don't think it has to be different. In 2011, we came out with Imported from Detroit. It was a wonderful success about this brand that had reinvented itself, coming out of the guts of Detroit. What we're doing today with the 200 is an extension of that. We started in June with America's Import, which is effectively a lead off of Imported from Detroit that broadens the scope of what it was. I don't think we need to be different. I think we need to expand and to grow, and the only way to grow is to attract more and more customers with product and marketing.
You've been on this job for a year now. What's the pace like going from, as you did, heading a business center to heading a brand?
The workload doesn't change, because the workloads in the business center are fairly staggering with 360 dealers and 70 or 80 employees. The difference is that the pressure level mounts, and the expectation level is higher. Not that the expectations in the business centers aren't high, but the expectations that you are a part of a team of 23 that work with Sergio to make something happen is fairly staggering.
Whether it's the 6 million units by 2018, or as I look at it, the 800,000 units that I owe to this company by 2018, there is significant pressure to perform that drives you down a path and engages you at the same time. It comes with the good and bad. It makes you sleepless. I've probably lost weight and gained gray hairs, and I'm much shorter.
It seems as though you're happy. Are you having fun?
I've learned more in the last year than I ever thought I would, and I know more about how to run the company, and I have way more to learn than I ever know today. It's truly an education. And on the back end of it, it's brutal at the same time because there's a lot to learn. You grow up really fast about what needs to be done, and you better grow up damn fast in order to make it happen.