CHRYSLER IS FEELING HIGH CLASS DESPITE ITS current money problems.
Consumers for years perceived Chryslers as large and conservative family sedans, according to Maureen Edson, a Chrysler marketing manager.
"But that's no longer applicable," she says. "More and more consumers see Chrysler as upscale and leading edge."
Accordingly, Chrysler is trying to gild its image, move on up and re-position itself in the marketplace. It's doing that in the face of losing about $1.75 billion in the last six months of 2000.
"We're working hard to make Chrysler the premium brand of the domestics," says Tom Marinelli, vice president of Chrysler/Jeep Division Global Brand Center.
He adds, "We have a lot of work to do."
Jacqueline Mitchell, editor-in-chief of African Americans on Wheels magazine, says it's a stretch to think of Chrysler as a premium brand.
"To me, it's always been an every day car, a blue collar car," she says. "When I think of luxury, I think of BMW or Mercedes. I don't think of Chrysler."
Yet Mr. Marinelli says that was then, this is now.
His examples of high-class Chryslers include: the 300M, which matches luxury with lots of horsepower, the LHS which melds luxury with largeness, and the Town & Country minivan which mates luxury with lugging a load of people around.
No other brand has changed so dramatically over the past decade than Chrysler's, says Ms. Edson.
She cites six new product launches in 2000. The oldest Chrysler design is the Concorde's, dating to 1998.
How does Chrysler see itself today after being around since 1924?
"We define our brand as expressive, athletic and refined," says Ms. Edson.
Is it soup yet for Ron Zarella? A persistent rumor is that Ron Zarella may leave his General Motors Corp. job as president for North American automotive operations to become the CEO of Campbell Soup Co. in Camden, NJ.
That's been the buzz in soup circles in New Jersey and auto circles in Detroit. The reasoning is that Mr. Zarella, a disciple of brand management, would be a good fit at Campbell, one of the world's most recognizable brands.
Mr. Zarella denies the rumor through a spokesman.
I asked GM CEO Rick Wagoner about it. He says, "Someone called me and asked that. I said, `Gee, I don't know let me get Ron on the other line.' I said, `Ron, is it m-m-good?' He said no. It's just a rumor."
If Honda matches Hyundai's warranty? A question posed to a Honda executive drew a foreboding response on whether Honda might match Hyundai's best-in-the-industry warranty coverage of 5 years/60,000 miles bumper-to-bumper and 10 years/100,000 miles on the power train.
The Honda executive says that if Honda, Toyota and Nissan did that it would just about kill domestic automakers.
He figures the domestics would be obliged to match such generous warranty coverage. But, he adds that their warranty claim pay-outs are already substantially higher than their Japanese counterparts. They'd really be doling out the bucks if warranties were extended.
What the heck happened to Olds? I asked a couple of "outsiders" what the heck happened to Oldsmobile that GM killed it off.
"People couldn't differentiate Oldsmobile among the GM divisions," says Wally Anderson, general manager of Mercedes-Benz USA's Chicago region. "I'm in the industry, and I wasn't able to make the differentiation. Olds is too much like Buick."
GM in recent years tried to recast Olds in the role of an "import fighter." But Mr. Anderson says he never saw the brand as that.
"I would have killed Olds off years ago," he says, unsentimentally.
Ironically, what helped hobble Olds was a famous ad campaign of the '90s, says Maureen Edson, a DaimlerChrysler marketing specialist.
"The `Not my father's Oldsmobile,' ads were a death blow," she says. "It made the old loyal buyers wonder what's wrong with me, and it made young customers wonder what's wrong with Oldsmobiles."
John Rock, who ran the Olds division at the time of those ads, says it was a good ad campaign.
"The only problem was that, at the time, all our cars were your father's Oldsmobiles," he recalls.
Check out this edition's various stories on the impending end of Oldsmobile. Senior Editor Maynard M. Gordon writes about how GM plans to buy out Olds dealers. He also looks into problems those dealers face in selling a dying division's products.
Editor-at-large David C. Smith gives his no-holds-barred commentary on GM's decision to dump Olds.
And our All-star profile this month is an Oldsmobile dealer who's done well enough to make the Ward's Dealer Business 500.