Thursday, September 06, 2007
Ever since Bob Nardelli took over, the auto world has been wondering how he will "fix" Chrysler. The two most visible moves? Hiring Toyota sales and marketing executives seems to be the answer.
Let me be the first to say, I'm not sure that this fully addresses Chrysler's need. I know both Jim Press (new co-President) and Deborah Wahl-Meyer (new CMO) are very talented sales and marketing executives. But is that really Chrysler's problem? My $.02 says Chrysler's biggest issues are in engineering and product planning, not sales and marketing. Here's the situation as I see it:
- Dodge/Chrysler need to freshen key products in the line up and launch them successfully (Minivans, trucks, Durango) and improve its powertrains/transmissions.
- Chrysler brand needs to move up market (to avoid on-going collisions with Dodge) and lacks the product/powertrains to be an entry level luxury/luxury brand that can compete with Lexus, Infiniti, Acura, BMW, Mercedes, and even Audi; not to mention the dealer service and quality issues
- Quality reality and image lag behind the leaders (we used to say it takes 3-5 years for quality improvements to be "accepted" by the market)
- Dealer sales and service satisfaction lag behind leaders (note that Toyota does not have good sales satisfaction scores)
- Jeep's attempt to re-brand itself beyond an "off road capable" vehicle -- jury still out...personally, I don't like it. Jeep says off-road/4x4 capability, but then, I didn't spend millions on focus groups to prove that this would work. I like it about as much as a Porsche Cayenne SUV...which is...not at all (in all candor...the Cayenne has sold well...for now)
The challenges at Chrysler will be much different than at Toyota/Lexus during the go-go 90s. The Lexus product and launch was practically flawless from a product standpoint. Fantastic V8 and fit/finish with industry standard dealer support...the chance to get it all right the first time...with a management team in Japan that said, "do whatever it takes to become the leader." The Toyota Camry is the gold standard for Sedans...and it's not because of its styling or advertising. It runs like a refrigerator. If you can get the product right...everything gets so much easier. Jim Press was quoted as saying he thinks he can strengthen the dealer group...I don't know...but my guess is that Toyota's dealers are strong because they sell more new units/store than any other franchise in the US...and that's because of products like the Camry, Corolla, Tercel, Prius and Sienna. To me at least, Toyota is an engineering and manufacturing company first and a sales/marketing company second. That explains their success.
As a friend of mine from J. Walter Thompson used to say...there's no amount of advertising/marketing creative and media that will save the Ford Tempo.