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June 2002 sales provided by Bill Cawthon. Thanks, Bill!
The situation at Chrysler seems so bad that even best-in-class cars simply aren't selling. For example, the Dodge Intrepid is larger than the competition, smooth, and, from what we know, reliable. Its engines are state of the art, and handling is better than average. Yet, fewer Intrepids were sold than Mercury Sables, Buick Centuries, or Pontiac Grand Ams. And the Intrepid was Chrysler's best selling car!
Looking at June 2002: Toyota sold 36,487 Camrys, high in comfort and reliability but low in, well, everything else. Honda sold 33,117 Accords, which are...well...not above average in any way until the 2003 models start selling. Even the new Honda Civic, substandard acceleration and all, managed 29,176 sales. So how many Intrepids were sold? 12,738. You might argue that the Concorde should be included. Fewer than 3,000 Concordes were sold. Gulp. And that despite the fact that the Concorde has a softer-tuned suspension for that smooth, Camry-style ride. (Actually the Concorde feels and handles better, but that's neither here nor there.)
Let's look now at the Neon. It easily outperforms the Civic, Corolla, Cavalier, Saturn S, and Ford Focus, while offering more room than most or all of those cars. You can't say Ford's reputation for quality is riding high these days, or that the Cavalier's known as Mr. Reliable. Yet, only 12,115 Neons were sold in June. That's respectable, but again, roughly one third the sales of Civic, less than half the sales of Cavalier, and nearly half of Corolla (22,596) and Focus (22,471). Admittedly, the Corolla's remarkably efficient (41 mpg highway with stick), and the new model is about the same size inside as the Neon. But the Civic? It doesn't even get good Consumer Reports ratings any more.
As for the mid-sized Dodge Stratus, which really should be competing against the Taurus, Accord, and those sorts of cars, it's barely registering. 6,449 Dodges, 4,466 Chryslers (for sedans).
The Chrysler 300M is a killer of a car, with its very elegant interior, fast acceleration, and roomy interior - not to mention its great handling and ride balance. Sorry, only 3,198 sold. The Special probably killed off some sales, with its overly stiff handling and cheapened interior, but still...something's wrong when the under-$30,000 300M is selling half as well as the Lincoln Town Car. GM sells over four times as many Impalas. Even the ancient Crown Victoria and Mercury Grand Marquis can easily double the sales of the 300M - separately (in other words, that car with names sells four times as well as the generally superior 300M!).
If you really want to scrape the bottom of the barrel, look at the Mitsubishis sold with Dodge and Chrysler labels - the wave of the future. The Stratus Coupe, on which the next-generation Stratus sedan will be made, registered with fewer than 2,000 sales, and still did twice as well as the Sebring Coupe, with 942 sales. There is no way the Sebring Coupe should still be alive. Those sales figures by no means justify the further cheapening of the Chrysler name. By the way, the discontinued B-vans are selling at the rate of 4,255 in June. The "niche" PT Cruiser outsold every single Chrysler car with sales of 13,134 in June...some niche vehicle! By that standard, every Dodge and Chrysler car is a niche vehicle!
Do these sales figures sound dismal? Well, they are. Dieter Zetsche will be bringing up a host of new Mitsubishis to sell under the Dodge and Chrysler labels, but the current cars aren't the problem. It's a combination of the reputation and the ads. The ads are still horrible, and now we can add "insulting" to that.
Why does Chrysler have a bad rep? Well, partly it's the ads...twenty years now of fire sale ads, touting discounts but nothing else (with rare exceptions). The few clever commercials - Neon introduction, PT Cruiser introduction, minivan leapfrogging, Jeep - are pretty rare and overwhelmed by the "TWO THOUSAND DOLLARS BACK!!" commercials. It's partly Customer Service - which is bad. It's partly bad information - why is it people STILL don't know the transmissions take special fluid?
But I'd say the main thing is rubbing everyone's nose in the takeover. It's hard to take pride in a company whose owners have no pride in it. When we spend ten to forty thousand dollars on a car, we don't want to get something which is not even respected by the people who run the company that makes it. And that's pretty clear from the way Daimler is shoved in front of Chrysler in every single public statement, press release, brochure, radio mention, and even factory sign.
How much would it cost for DCX to split Chrysler off into its own company, wholly owned, like Mercedes-Benz? Not much, we'd wager. Not as much as the cost to put Daimler in front of Chrysler, and Group behind Chrysler.
It's time. Time to stop telling prospective buyers and current owners that their cars are crap. Time to stop trying to convince Americans that America means nothing but renaming superior German technology. Time maybe to return to designing and engineering cars again, instead of importing them. Even time to restore a cheap brand so Chrysler can truly start to rise up to Lincoln and Cadillac - and, hopefully and eventually, above them.
If not, well, I shudder to think of what 2003 June sales will look like.
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