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Chrysler's Vines Departs. Does CEO Nardelli KNow What Drives Auto Marketing.

Posted by: David Kiley on December 10, 2007

Most consumers and customers of Chrysler don’t know who Jason Vines is. So, perhaps Chrysler CEO Bob Nardelli views Vines resignation as no big deal.

Vines has been the vp in charge of communications at Chrysler for a few years. He has also held the similar post at Ford and Nissan. He has his detractors, as he can often be combative with reporters. And God knows he has had his misfires. The Dr. Z campaign for Chrysler starring an animated version of Dieter Zetsche comes to mind.

But he is also, pound for pound, one of the best guys in the business for generating energy around a car brand. The word on the street is that his bold and sometimes audacious style clashed with Bob Nardelli’s vision of the new Chrysler—a private company majority-owned by private equity firm Cerberus.

Nardelli has had a prickly relationship with the media going back to his days as CEO of Home Depot and as a high-ranking exec at GE. I can’t say he is “thin-skinned,” because I never covered him day to day on a beat before. But if he is turning out to be that way, and expects to be able to run a stealth comeback for Chrysler, he has some learning to do.

GE and Home Depot’s value is not dependent on the media covering those companies. Chrysler’s is.

A recovery at Chrysler is going to take time. The brands are damaged goods. Even Jeep has fallen in value. Chrysler and Dodge hardly draw flies. A bunch of the new product is sub-prime: The Nitro, the Sebring, The Compass, the Avenger. I’ve seen some research numbers on these products, in terms of what buyers and rejectors think of them, that would make a marketer weep.

What Nardelli will find is that he needs a dynamic PR effort to buy himself time and create diversions whilst the product lineup gets fixed.

Chrysler vice chairman Jim Press knows all this, by the way, which begs the question: how long will the Nardelli-Press marriage last?

Former General Motors North America president Ron Zarella only ever said one smart thing during the years he was at the automaker. And it was this: Zarella's last day, he said (and I'm paraphrasing), "I didn't realize until very late in the game that what you guys (the media) say about GM and its products is a lot more important than what we advertise. Where I came from (Procter & Gamble and Bausch & Lomb), it was the opposite. Advertising was the whole show, and very little depended on PR and media relations."

In the car business, this is absolutely true. GM this week is having kittens over a somewhat negative review of the Chevy Malibu in USA Today. That's because they know that James Healey's review probably carries more weight than $10 million of TV ads.

The interesting thing to watch is how Nardelli, who may fight this reality, will match up with Press over time. Press has been doing interviews with the media, while Nardelli really hasn't. Press knows how to tell a story. He did it for years at Toyota. Sooner or later, there is bound to be some resentment or jealousy in the House of Cerberus/Chrysler. I have seen this movie before.

Reader Comments


December 10, 2007 8:54 PM

Nothing quite like the inside scoop regardless of what the uncleaned shovel was used for prior. Of course the ad guys are pushing their highly deceptive business, only natural, if not maximal greedy and ill-founded. It is largely for this reason, and a long-running dislike of the 'business ethics' of GM, that I completely distrust ad claims and self-serving corporate hype, and would not even consider, let alone buy a Malibu. Ditto for the clone from Saturn, or any of their line. Desperation reigns supreme these days, and I love it.

That James Press knows the ins and outs of advertising and promotion, thanks to his time with Toyota is most likely a fact. Or he is a good liar. But one has to wonder about a his being a traitor. And this he is in both the eyes of his former employer and mine as well. And yes, he is applying the 'American way' of doing things, clearly a loser if past results can be considered any kind of clue as to the future.

Let's be clear that GM, Ford, and Chrysler are on their way down the tubes. It is just a matter of time, and that is ticking away. And in this situation, don't blame 'them durned dirty-rat cheapo feerners', the damage was self-inflicted, not to mention highly deserved. Arrogance and far too much pay for the execs is not paying off any longer. Just dig up Roger Smith and ask him.

As to Nasty Nardeli, best he be preserved in Acrylic plastic and used as a light-weight paper weight.


December 10, 2007 10:06 PM

Deborah Meyer will undoubtedly be able to handle all of Chrysler's marketing needs.


December 11, 2007 3:43 PM

Bob Nardelli may not know what drives auto marketing, but we know what drives him. Compensation. Lots and lots of it. Rest assured that even if Chrysler joins AMC on the dustheap of auto history, Mr. N will walk away with plenty of money to add to the 460 million he got for his mediocre performance at Home Depot.


December 11, 2007 11:30 PM

Vines was one of the few execs that spoke up and defended the Chrysler brands. Taking on and correcting the news media and other industry analysts is a full time job. Right now the media are like border collies pushing the herd in one direction. Someone has to stand up and call the dogs off, Vines at least put an effort in doing that compared to some of the silent corporate spokes(wo)men that are in Chrysler's executive ranks.


December 15, 2007 4:54 PM

PFG, bully for Vines for at least trying. But defending what Chrysler is foisting off on the few remaining buyers these days is problematic. Their line is about as sorry as that of GM. Interesting to me that just three GM cars are being hyped now, "lauded by the press" as if that means anything. Bottom line, it adds up to very little, and even that has to be taken with a huge swipe of the tongue against a salt-lick. Ford is no better off. And it is all self/UAW-inflicted damage.

My thinking is that the media are about 90% untrustworthy, not to mention the same percent far-left leaning in their dismal nation-defeating politics.

I like Milton's assessment of Nardelli. As to D. Meyer's 'handling of marketing needs', having something salable would help a lot. But the Big Three have dug themselves pits, alienated a lot of former owners and future buyers. It will take more than costly flashy obnoxious ads and vast rebates to get their shows back on the road.

Bob Skyler

October 7, 2008 10:16 AM

I love this car

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