Chrysler Undertakes Urgent Vehicle Improvement Steps
They figured out what the rest of us already knew.
By Chris Haak
There has been a lot of ink spilled over the past week about how things may be worse at Chrysler than Cerberus expected when they bought 80.1% of the company from DaimlerChrysler AG (now Daimler AG). Today’s credit markets are not friendly to the types of financial needs that Chrysler would have in order to turn around their lineup with all world-class vehicles, and many of their recent products have been met with both critical and consumer complaints. Specific concerns surround perceived quality, interior materials and fit and finish, and styling. Basically, Chrysler needs to improve sales in the short term in order to fund improved future models, because it will be very difficult for the company to raise additional funds from external sources in today’s environment.
Last week’s Wall Street Journal contained several articles about Chrysler’s situation, but one of the most interesting ones (to me) was that on August 6, when CEO Bob Nardelli started working, he immediately drove as many of the company’s products daily as he could. Now, in spite of owning a Plymouth Prowler, Nardelli is not a car guy, but he is a bright guy, and also being a wealthy individual, probably also has a clue about what a quality product looks and feels like. Supposedly, Mr. Nardelli did like the Jeep Grand Cherokee, but found the wind noise and interior materials “totally unacceptable” in the Chrysler Sebring convertible. In fact, after his experience with the Sebring convertible, he sent a “terse” e-mail to the company’s design chief, Trevor Creed, which read, “I found the wind noise totally unacceptable and bordering on offensive at speeds of 80 mph.” He also took a shot at the interior quality, adding, “I sure hope that as we go forward, we don’t punish the customer by thrifting the interior to meet a cost target.”
The interior quality concerns, which have been a point of contention with Chrysler’s critics, are going to be addressed immediately, according to an article in industry publication Automotive News on Monday. A team, composed partially of senior managers and directors who recently took buyouts and are returning to work as contract employees, will specifically address interior design and materials for the Sebring and Avenger.
The articles made no mention of the timeframe for when to expect to see the revised Sebring and Avenger, but if the project just got off the ground, I’d expect it to take two years to finalize the design and engineering and get suppliers on board with parts in production.
Meanwhile, I find it disappointing that the company who brought us vehicles such as the Viper, the original minivan, the Plymouth Prowler and the Chrysler 300C sedan rested on its laurels so much when creating the Sebring. The fact that the car has been on sale for only a year, and made its debut near the bottom of critical press comparison tests – and on retail shoppers’ lists – while becoming a favorite of rental car agencies should be, and apparently was, very eye-opening to Chrysler management. I hope that they can fix this car’s shortcomings (a little help with the exterior styling wouldn’t hurt, either) before it’s too late.
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