Dealers Delighted With New Ownership at Chrysler

Dealers are hopeful that new ownership and “fresh cash” will bolster Chrysler’s marketing and product development programs.

Mac Gordon, Correspondent

May 23, 2007

3 Min Read
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Veteran Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep dealers are upbeat about Chrysler Group’s purchase by New York investment firm Cerberus Capital Management LP.

The dealers express hope that new ownership and “fresh cash” will bolster the auto maker’s marketing and product-development programs.

“The Cerberus team sounds like they’re really committed to shaping up Chrysler,” says Bob Feeny, owner of a Chrysler Dodge store in Midland, MI, and a Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep dealership in Gaylord, MI.

He hopes for the return to Chrysler of Wolfgang Bernhard, former chief operating officer and currently a Cerberus adviser. Reports indicate Bernhard will remain at Cerberus as an advisor.

Feeny credits Bernhard with having a strong hand in the development of the Chrysler 300, new Dodge Ram and Chrysler PT Cruiser. “He is a terrific product guy,” says Feeny. “We could use more hits like these.”

Don Schunk, a St. Louis Chrysler-Jeep dealer, applauds the Cerberus decision to keep Tom LaSorda on as CEO of the new Chrysler Holding LLC.

“Some of the other guys who were bidding for Chrysler sounded like (former Chrysler Corp. CEO Lee) Iacocca, wanting to change the management team again,” says Schunk. “LaSorda is a stable leader, savvy about products and quality. We don’t need another revolving-door transition.”

Dealer Sid DeBoer says Cerberus cash infusion will help.

Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep dealers have fared relatively well during the auto maker’s latest downturn.

“They have three strong brands to compete with,” says Sid DeBoer, chairman and CEO of publicly owned Lithia Motors, a 104-store dealership chain with 40% of its revenues coming from Chrysler Group stores in the western states.

“They have good marketing campaigns coming up, but they need more money to support the ’07-model clearance and the new ’08 models,” DeBoer says. “Hopefully, with the Cerberus cash infusion, Chrysler will sustain high sales support for the great all-new ’08s in their pipeline.”

Chrysler’s top-volume U.S. dealer, AutoNation Inc., gave its full support for the deal after a meeting between LaSorda and the megadealer’s top executives, CEO Mike Jackson and Chief Operating Officer Mike Maroone, at Chrysler headquarters in Auburn Hills, MI.

Cerberus leadership is “passionate about the industrial might of America,” Jackson tells The Detroit Free Press, adding that they are “not a pack of vultures looking for an opportunity.”

People at Chrysler are energized, he says. “This is a new chapter, and they do indeed have the right partner.”

A South Florida dealer, who asked not to be named, says he’s delighted the Mercedes-Benz presence soon will be gone from Chrysler’s management team.

“They refused to share models, powertrains or electronics with Chrysler,

except on the Crossfire coupe and Sprinter van,” says the dealer. “It made a joke of there being a merger.

“They refused to allow any Chrysler dealers to get a Mercedes franchise, except for that Mercedes-Benz/Dodge dealer in (Sylvania) Ohio,” he adds. “They were stuck-up car people and acted like it for nine long years.”

John Wiese, who has a Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep franchise in Sauk Centre, MN, says sales have been slowed by economic concerns in his primarily agricultural area.

“We’re fortunate to have three brands with loyal followings, especially for the Jeep Wrangler and Dodge Ram,” he says, voicing hopes the new Chrysler owners will return the auto maker to profitability and offer “an even stronger product lineup.”

Wiese adds: “Despite all the bad news from Detroit and the talk since February about a change at the top in Chrysler, folks around here who have driven Dodges or Jeeps or Chryslers for years still are sticking with those brands.

“The new owners are buying a tried-and-true dealer and customer base. And no one makes a better minivan.”

About the Author(s)

Mac Gordon

Correspondent, WardsAuto

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