Heads To Roll At Chrysler?

Posted by: David Kiley on August 10, 2007

With tough CEO Bob Nardelli coming on board at Chrysler, a few executives have some things to answer for.

One of Chrysler’s problems today—in my opinion a big problem—is that its latest and “greatest” products came up way short on design and quality. Remember when Dieter Zetsche and Wolfgang Bernard arrived in 2000 to “clean up” Chrysler and show the guys in Auburn Hills a thing or two about how cars are made?

Have you seen the new Sebring sedan and convertible? It’s amusing to me how the photography of the car in ads has been distorted to hide its truly terrible lines and proportions. The interiors? Yikes. How about the brand new Dodge Nitro? The inerior is so terrible in this vehicle, it reminds me of a mid-80s Dodge Spirit.

I’m not just mouthing off. Chrysler sources tell me that they are flabbergasted by J.D. Power and Associates reports that show that the Sebring, Nitro, Jeep Compass, Patriot, Wrangler and Liberty are all near the bottom of their segments in Initial Quality, as well as the firm’s APEAL study, which measures how well consumers like the design, packaging and layout of the vehicles. Even the vaunted Chrysler 300 sedan has an interior that ranks low on APEAL.

Chrysler has such weak brand allure, except for Jeep, that if it doesn’t have design, it has nothing at all.

One culprit on this debacle, former product chief and COO Eric Ridenour has left the automaker in the wake of Cerberus Capital’s takeover of Chrysler. But two other executives with culpability—design chief Trevor Creed and current product chief Frank Klegon—have a lot to answer for to Nardelli as he is reviewing the state of play at Chrysler.

Of course, another culprit is Zetsche, who ran Chrysler Group until late 2005 when decisions on these vehicles were being made. Zetsche was supposed to have a keen eye for design and vehicle packaging. What is evident in these new vehicles is that cost cutting ran wild and into the wrong places. Chrysler had a golden opportunity with the release of these new cars to make a new design statement.

Chrysler’s star designer Ralph Gilles (300 sedan and the 2008 minivan) said this week that “interiors is the next battleground,” and that the carmaker intends to begin interior design work up to a year earlier than usual so fresh ideas can be introduced. I’d dsay it was also to correct a terrible job already unleashed on customers and dealers.

Gilles said the complexities of melding new materials and electronics into vehicles prompted Chrysler to pull ahead interior development by 40-60 weeks. Really? Sure it wasn’t the terrible Power scores and slow sales?

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