Chrysler's Reinvention

Will there be a Dodge in your garage?

Whether Chrysler or any automaker deserved a bailout is a topic that has been debated endlessly—but for enthusiasts, having more choices rather than fewer is good. Pontiac, Plymouth, Oldsmobile, Mercury—all American nameplates that in recent years have gone the way of the Edsel, Studebaker, American Motors, and Willys. Detroit, once a hub of commerce worldwide, has struggled with declines in most every indicator. Yet, this Midwestern town—which was said to have been included in the Eastern time zone to coincide with the New York Stock Exchange—is pulling itself up by the bootstraps. You only need to look at the product they are turning out these days to believe it.

Lenoir City's Tilley-Lane Chrysler Dodge Ram Jeep, in business for 16 years in the same location, has been part of this reawakening, and we spoke with their sales manager, Stan Anthony, to find out why. "First, Chrysler has repaid its debt in full through private investment. This was a result of being able to prove to its lenders that it could produce better vehicles. It wasn't only Chrysler that went through a reinvention—the entire industry did. Design, production methods, a leaner workforce all added up to better cars. We know that right here, our warranty claims are down 30 percent. Now, cars won't ship if there's something wrong with them on the assembly line, but it took a long time for the manufacturers to make these changes."

Chrysler's head of design, Ralph Gilles, was given the added assignment as chief of the Street and Racing Technology (SRT) group. "You learn a lot from racing, and he's a smart guy—very knowledgeable, capable," Anthony says. "When Chrysler was restructuring, SRT went away but now they're back. There's going to be an SRT version of the Grand Cherokee, 300, Challenger, Charger, and the new Viper." SRT badges are apparently hard to come by, as only 10 other vehicles have received this designation in Chrysler's history.

Tilley-Lane's best sellers are the Dodge Caravan, Jeep Grand Cherokee, and the Ram pickup. Allocation is improved with Chrysler's new system, which schedules what's needed based on sales. "The 200 has been well received, just as the Grand Cherokee was when it was first introduced," Anthony says. Their dealership is also capable of upfitting any new vehicle they sell, adding wheels, tires, or other parts and accessories and incorporating it into the loan (with the added benefit of warranty coverage) along with the car itself.

While initially there was quite a bit of skepticism surrounding Fiat's purchase of Chrysler from Cerebus—a private investment group, who had itself bought the then-money losing automaker from Mercedes-Benz—more recently there has been optimism on the part of industry analysts and the media. From our perspective, Chrysler has succeeded in creating a full line of vehicles, each one possessing a certain appeal of its own. They, unlike many of their rivals, seem less inclined to rest on their laurels maybe as a result of having fallen the farthest.

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