Chrysler’s Press Talks Change



In a closing evening at Chrysler's dealer sales meeting, Vice Chairman and President Jim Press introduced funnyman Jay Leno with an ease and showmanship that by some accounts was rare to see during Press's previous management posts at Toyota Motor Sales. It's especially surprising considering that Press has only been in his role at the company for a few weeks.


Prior to the punchlines, it wasn't all laughs as Press, along with sales chief Steven Landry and marketing chief Deborah Meyer, fielded questions from the reporters with the same ease, just a short time after the company had reached a tentative labor agreement with the UAW.


About 70 percent of its dealer body and about 90 percent of its sales volume were represented at the sales meeting, the automaker's first as Chrysler LLC, under the control of Cerberus Capital Management LP.


Changes on the dealer front that Press said are definitely on the way include simplified ordering, streamlined option packages, and an effort to make dealer operations more efficient. To the latter goal, there's already an 18-month plan in the works for the dealer body. In the mean time, the company's current dealer bonus program will be phased out at the end of December, replaced by a program that gives dealers a $400 allowance per vehicle, with “no targets, no hooks,” according to sales VP Steven Landry.


The company has had a looming, longstanding issue with excess inventories; but it has already been able to make some difficult decisions more easily, according to Press, given Chrysler's private ownership. Press confirmed plans to slash inventory levels by about 100,000 units — roughly a billion dollars — over the next year.


When asked about product, Press was reluctant to discuss specifics, saying that at this time the company is still coming up with a long-term strategic product plan. He did however admit that there's insufficient coverage in some product areas and said that the company needs to better match what it builds with what customers want. Press said that the company's capabilities and product team are strong; it's just a matter of including the customer's voice.


Press hinted that we'll see the company's green offerings — in terms of diesels and hybrids — expanded. “We're not behind in diesel,” he proclaimed, pointing to the technology agreement with Mercedes-Benz, in which the Chrysler has access to the German automaker's technology as if it were still owned by them. Press also said that the company seeks to create hybrids that don't involve as much compromise for consumers, to which he added, “Eventually everything will be a hybrid.”


“There are many customers who like driving appliances, and we've got to get better at giving them appliances,” said Press in seriousness, explaining that Chrysler will need products that appeal to the most practically-minded people in the same way as the company's SRT line appeals to enthusiasts.

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