• Feb 4, 2011
Some years ago, sitting in my office with the windows open on a warm spring day, I heard a deep rumble – not unlike the sound of a freight train passing by... but closer, more menacing, and immediately followed by a violent shudder as a rare Midwest earthquakes rolled out from under Lake Erie.

This wasn't supposed to be a particularly good year for the smallest of the Detroit makers.
I'm starting to hear a similar sound, not quite so loud, but this time emerging from Auburn Hills, Michigan, where Chrysler is headquartered. Call it a hum, maybe a rumble, though definitely not yet the sort of buzz that would follow a similarly seismic event – in this case the turnaround of a company most folks had long written off for dead.

This wasn't supposed to be a particularly good year for the smallest of the Detroit makers. Its product pipeline, went the conventional wisdom, was all but empty, other than the completely-remade Jeep Grand Cherokee and redesigned Chrysler 300, due later in the model-year. But I think most of us in the media were delivered a pleasant surprise a few months back when we got a first good look at the rest of the maker's 2011 lineup.

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Paul EisensteinPaul A. Eisenstein is Publisher of TheDetroitBureau.com, and a 30-year veteran of the automotive beat. His editorials bring his unique perspective and deep understanding of the auto world to Autoblog readers on a regular basis.



I no longer need to tell friends, family and strangers alike to go running as fast as possible away from a Chrysler showroom.
True, we won't begin to see the real impact of Chrysler's critical new partnership with Fiat until 2012 or '13 at the earliest, but the latest offerings are, for the most part, a lot better than the dreary holdovers we were anticipating. Sure, the new 200 is just a placeholder until a Fiat-based replacement arrives – but it's also much more than just a new nameplate slapped onto the dreadful old Sebring. Indeed, perhaps the biggest news of the year from Chrysler is that the maker has finally embraced the need to upgrade its interiors.

Sure, exterior design is the first thing to catch your eye, but you live in the interior, acknowledges Klaus Busse, the design director whose team gave us the new look, banishing what he describes as those "acres of battleship gray plastic."

Significantly, in a year when Chrysler wasn't supposed to have much of a story to tell, two models, the Grand Cherokee and the reborn Dodge Durango, landed as finalists in the much-scrutinized bid for the North American Car of the Year trophy – though ultimately losing to the ground-up redesign of the Ford Explorer.

No, few would say Chrysler's products are yet at what might be called the renaissance stage. But as someone who finds the cocktail party chatter frequently turn to my automotive recommendations, I no longer need tell friends, family and strangers alike to go running as fast as possible away from a Chrysler showroom.

Overcoming a reputation for quality problems isn't easy... even when the numbers start creeping back upward.
There's no question there are plenty of challenges ahead for the new management team led by Sergio Marchionne, the sweater-clad CEO who runs both Chrysler and Fiat. One of the biggest is quality. The maker has routinely lagged at the back of the pack by almost every metric. Chrysler has "a long road ahead," said J.D. Power and Associates analyst, Dave Sargent, before it can "prove to consumers that (it) can produce models with quality that equals or beats that of the import brands."

Or Ford, for that matter, the cross-town rival that is intent on demonstrating that a domestic automaker really can keep up – indeed lead – the best of them.

Overcoming a reputation for quality problems isn't easy, and even when the numbers start creeping back upward, perception routinely lags reality by a number of years. So, Chrysler will have to make big gains in other ways to win back skeptical buyers. Those improved interiors will help. And new products, like the Fiat 500, as well as the redesigns of the Grand Cherokee and 300 are starting to turn heads.

There are some early signs of success. The maker posted its 10th consecutive increase in sales last month, a significantly reversal of what, for several years, seemed a downward spiral into oblivion. The 23-percent increase was one of the biggest in the industry, and it delivered a modest but still significant improvement in market share.

Marchionne is now firmly committed to staging an initial public offering during the second half of the year.
The sales gain followed just days after Marchionne's team announced a fourth-quarter operating profit of $198 million. Of course, the maker's bottom line was still in the red to the tune of $199 million, but that was a far cry from the $2.7 billion loss during the October – December period the year before.

Now comes the real test, the Canadian-educated Marchionne is promising that Chrysler will report anywhere from $200 million to $500 million in profits for 2011. Not operating income, net. And you can be sure a lot of folks will be watching closely, everyone from potential investors to the White House, which is under intense pressure to get the government out of the automotive business.

Marchionne is now firmly committed to staging an initial public offering during the second half of the year. He says the November 2010 IPO at GM was a "snowplow," preparing the market for Chrysler to follow. But investors will demand solid results, as they demonstrated last week by driving Ford stock down 12% in a single day after it just slightly missed its earnings target.

There is reason to be cautiously optimistic, but that hum hasn't turned into a full-fledged buzz at Chrysler, yet. The maker has plenty of challenges ahead of it. But if it can turn things around, you can be sure it will register in seismic proportions.

[Image: Drew Phillips/AOL]


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  • 44 Comments
      • 3 Years Ago
      I just bought a 2010 Challenger R/t, and have to say, it is the most fun, yet comfortable, car I've ever owned. Had a chance to see the new Dodge lineup like the Cherokee and Durango, and was very impressed. Seriously, I have to hand it to them, the only American company still doing V8s and RWD.
      • 3 Years Ago
      I always felt the varity on the Chrysler lot the nicest of all.

      What happened to the interiors of their cars during the Diamler years was horrendious.

      I will say my Chrysler vehicles have been on par with other brands I`ve owned as far as reliability.

      People are sheep. If it`s popular to love Toyota so be it.

      Its popular to bash Chrysler so be it.

      I happy people are starting to read between the lines .

      If you love cars Chrysler must prosper.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Chrysler a Detroit carmaker!? Chrysler is an Italian owned company manufacturing in the US. That puts it on par with Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Hyundai, Mercedes, BMW, Subaru and Mitsubishi, all foreign companies manufacturing in the US. Why aren't the foreign bashers talking trash about Chrysler? Chrysler is still dead. No amount of taxpayer funded bailouts are going to keep a company alive that simply does not have enough people buying their products. The only American/Detroit car maker left is Ford. GM also died and continues to live large because of a taxpayer funded bailout, along with the UAW. No amount of tests is going to resurrect the dead. But continued government bail outs and preferential tax accommodations will keep these two zombies going, along with the UAW.
        • 3 Years Ago
        Chrysler is NOT owned by Fiat. They are managed by Fiat. The majority of Chrysler is owned by the UAW Pension fund. Fiat may indeed buy out Chrysler as part of their agreement with the US Government, but only after meeting certain requirements, like manufacturing their Multi-Air engines in US facilities.

        It's amazing how ignorant so many people are.
        • 3 Years Ago
        I think the point is...
        Clearly with globalization, the distinction between "domestic" and "foreign" automakers is blurred, with many stakeholders and plants all over the world.

        Is a VW still German if it's built in Chattanooga?
        Is a Chrysler still American if it's managed from Turin?

        All valid questions, making this "buy American" mantra complete nonsense.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Great article. I'm glad they are getting some accolades. They are honorably servicing their debt (at a high interest rate no less between 14 and 20% ), and have a fresh management perspective. Fiat is obviously committed and despite many prognosticators, they are on the road home. Their product line has moved between competitive and solid from lackluster at best.

      For the North american Economy I can't see how this can be considered a bad thing. Jobs saved, jobs added, factories set to be idled with new leases on life.
      • 3 Years Ago
      I never wrote them off for dead. Other than ford's relatively recent activity, Mopar was always the more "creative" of the big three, hence why it came up with bizarre yet awesome creations like the 426 Hemi, the Superbird, Daytona, Shelby Omni, Spirit R/T, Neon ACR, SRT4, had consistently turned concepts into reality (viper, pt cruiser, etc), and had a few huge smash hits. On top of that, Jeep is a really solid line if you actually NEED to go offroading (most SUV owners don't, but whatever).

      The only people calling them dead were ignorant writers and journalists at places like... oh.. ahem. Yeah.
        • 3 Years Ago
        They were called "dead" because they were not offering the type of vehicles that most consumers wanted to buy.. as you can see by the sales they had posted. I agree with you, that by far Chrysler has some of the most awesome concepts and several have made it into production. The Prowler is the one that started the "retro" trend. It was and still is an awesome looking vehicle. However, the Prowler and Viper are niche products... I don't think they were selling 10k of each on any given year. Can't pay the rent with only those two.
        The automotive industry moves fast, and Chrysler dragged it's feet. When the PT Cruiser debuted, it was the "it" car.. long waits to get and people paying a lot over MSRP.. then it was left unchanged for almost 10 years.
        • 3 Years Ago
        Chrysler's new commercial "what ever happened to style" brings back memories of an era I never knew. There used to be a time when Americans were allowed to dream.

        DOES ANYONE REMEMBER when Chrysler fielded the turbine powered car?
        http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=turbine+powered+chrysler&aq=f

        If I could buy one of these, I'd be proud driving it to work every day.

        MUTHER****** JET Turbines !
        • 3 Years Ago
        You forgot to mention the Dodge Ram front end that is still influencing the designs of trucks almost two decades later. It helped to get Chrysler back on the map and into the forefront of people's minds.
        • 3 Years Ago
        I wrote them off for dead. But I think they were inspired by a particular scene in Monty Python's Holy Grail. I think Chrysler might be feeling much better.
        • 3 Years Ago
        I am a long time Mopar guy and while I rabidly fought for their existence I really didn't think they would have a chance to survive. They are surviving now, but they have a long way to go. They have a great leader, which are so rare to find these days. Chrysler was in excellent shape when they were sold up the river by Bob Eaton to Mercedes. It was a horrible merger. This upcoming marriage seems to make a lot more sense.

        Chrysler is a fun scrappy company to root for who takes chances. The quality dedication is a good thing to see. It is also great to see that they switched ad agencies and took on a competition based model that has produced some interesting advertising.

        They are nowhere near out of the woods yet, but hopefully they will make it.
        BOB
        • 3 Years Ago
        I'm glad to hear that Chrysler has resurected the 392 hemi ! The hemi came out in the Imperial from "55 - 57 " in the C and D model . It was an amazing engine and in' 58' at the drag-strip in a rail dragster, and it was nearly unbeatable...... Hope it's not de-tuned.
      • 3 Years Ago
      After going broke twice in recent memory, I would be afraid of Chrysler (or any US automaker) in any economic downturn. The economy is rallying again, but there is the problem of the liabilities of the states who are close to bankruptcy and the debt of the Feds hanging over the economy like an incoming asteroid. You would think with one of the highest real tax rates in the world now, it might be a real problem raising taxes in a weak economy, but that is what they have to do. The dollar is now one of the weakest currencies in the world., and our printing presses are going full steam ahead. The people paying attention are going to be quite defensive. Unemployment is critical. People who have used up their unemplyment benefits are now longer counted in the governments figures which gives a very deceptive spin on the real unemployment problem. If you have heard the numbers out the last couple of days, they don't quite add up. Unemployment drops 4 tenths of a percent, but we only added 20k new jobs? I get the impression that real unemployment is in the high teen percentages, and that is ominous for the economy. I hope this bunch knows what they are doing. I used to think I understood economics, but I am sure I don't anymore. I hate to sound gloomy, but that's what I see. Someone please straighten me out. Tell me I'm wrong, please!
        • 3 Years Ago
        you are so wrong....
      • 3 Years Ago
      I just ended a 2 week love affair with a 2011 Grand Cherokee limited while my Ram was being undented. Every day I would find extra excuses to keep leaving so I could drive it. Such a drivable vehicle, glued to the road in rain and snow, never slipped and inspired confidence in bad conditions I've only ever had on a BMW. The best part about it though, is the fact that it's a civilized ride that could climb a mountain.
      • 3 Years Ago
      I agree with Crate460...but hoping they do well.
      • 3 Years Ago
      I think it's great that Chrysler seems to be on the fast track to recovery. I've always been a Mopar guy at heart and recently went back to them when I got my Challenger R/T and Charger SRT, had an 04 Ram 1500 Hemi that I absolutely loved (and still miss). Admittedly I was never a fan of Fiat, but hey - if they can make this marriage work and it ends up benefitting both companies for the better, more power to 'em.

      Now if they can just keep their employees from drinking and smoking dope in the parking lot while still on the job...
      • 3 Years Ago
      As a long term Chrysler/Mopar fan and buyer, I am glad they are picking up where they left off in 1998, pre-Daimler era. Congrats Chrysler. Now lets get a next-gen Neon and Magnum out the door ASAP :D
      • 3 Years Ago
      The chopped-top of the 2010 Chrysler 300 is what makes the car look big and sexy. Notice the Camero also has a chopped-top. The windows are not as big as a Toyota Yaris. Hotrods look nice because of the chopped tops. The 2011 300 has a lower belt line and the front windsheld is raised on the top for more visibility. Chrysler did this because they don't know why the 300 fans liked the 300. Muscle car fans are all about styling. We will find a way to see through the narrow windows. Chrysler cannot try to please those who love their cars and those who don't at the same time.
      • 3 Years Ago
      I think Chryslers/Dodge/Jeep current and near future lineup will bring in the dough. Only thing that worries me is any spikes in oil prices and they could take heavy losses with no real fuel efficient choices other than the Fiat 500.
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