LAS VEGAS – Most Chrysler dealers are in good spirits as they leave a closed-door meeting with the auto maker’s top executives, including CEO Sergio Marchionne, at the National Automobile Dealers Assn. convention here.
“It’s the most positive Chrysler franchise meeting I’ve attended in two or three years,” says William Douglas of Douglas Jeep-Chrysler-Dodge in Venice, FL. “We’re moving in the right direction.”
After getting a government bailout and spending time in the bankruptcy tank three years ago, Chrysler is in much better shape today. Its sales were up 26% last year.
That improved state is reflected in the mood of most Chrysler dealers, such as Douglas.
He owned an American Motors dealership before Chrysler bought that brand in 1987, “so I’ve seen a lot over the years,” he says.
Asked how he feels today about Chrysler on a 1-0 scale, he says, “As far as being upbeat, I’d say 8-10.”
Dealer Terry Megee of Magee Motors in Georgetown, DE, remembers the bad old days of three and four years ago, “when we were on our knees.”
His wife, Vanessa, who is involved in the family dealership, says, “I don’t think some of us knew how close Chrysler was to not surviving.”
A second generation dealer whose father started selling Studebakers in 1948, Terry Megee says, “We’ve been there, done that, and we’re still here.”
David Kelleher, chairman of the Chrysler’s national dealer council, speaks of the auto maker’s comeback in historic terms.
“Everyone at the meeting was saying, ‘Let’s go,’” he says. “Our thinking is that we can write history in 2012. We’ve been through a lot and we are going where we need to go. We’re half way there.”
Not all dealers happily leave the franchise meeting. “Talk to someone who is happy,” one Michigan dealer tells WardsAuto.
Asked about that, Kelleher says, “There’s always a small percentage of unhappy dealers at franchise meetings. But in this case, it was very small.
“I worked the room and didn’t hear any discontent. It wasn’t reflected in dealers’ questions to the executives. It doesn’t show in the statistics.”