I see some posters one here who keep harping about how this is "the same movie as before but with an Italian accent", Well, I think this is a much different "movie" and this is why, from my "outsider" point of view:
1. The first thing that Daimler did after the "Merger of Equals" was to do a tear down on the Chrysler product line. From what I heard here on Allpar and other sources, the Daimler engineers were arrogant and dismissive about the quality and engineering of the Chrysler vehicles, basically calling them junk. Not an auspicious start to a relationship, but at the time, I was "all in" so I thought, "this means better quality and reliability from Benz parts and engineering!"
2. Once they established themselves firmly in control, Daimler than stopped the LX development project, and insisted that it would have to be re-engineered using Daimler parts, including the 5 speed transmission, and the 5 link rear suspension. This delayed the launch of the Magnum by several months, added weight and costs. The increase in parts and engineering costs was then off-set by an across-the-board reduction on development budgets, which forced the Chrysler design team to severely cheapen the materials used in the design of the interior. In addition, a policy of "decontenting" was started, and soon nice convenience features were removed from models with no corresponding reduction in costs to the consumer. In other words, the consumer was getting less bang for their buck.
3. As vehicles were being redesigned for mid-cycle refreshes, they no longer had any of the "mojo" that Chrysler had in droves in the late 90's. In addition, the Mercedes "quality gates" manufacturing system overhauled the industries most efficient and innovative design process, the "platform teams" which allowed them to get vehicles like the Viper, the PT Cruiser and the Neon to market much faster, and cheaper than their competition. The vehicles they came out with were no longer beautiful, class leaders, but awkward also-rans, with the notable exception of the 300C (though it's interior was ghastly).
4. Daimler sucked up all the available cash they could, and took a company which was hot, and leading the world in design and time to market, and destroyed all of the intrinsic value of the former Chrysler Corporation, so when they pawned the remains off to Cerberus, they had squeezed all of the blood out of the turnip they could.
5, Daimler also had a bad habit of co-opting Chrysler's technology, and using it for their own needs. For instance, the 3rd generation viper which was turned into the SLK. They also tied Chrysler up with an expensive boondoggle with Getrag, building a plant that is still not in use (to my knowledge), The final straw was when they were contemplating eliminating the Phoenix/Pentastar engine program.
OK, enough of the bad old days... let's get to the point. Here's how I see the actions of Fiat and SM since they took over:
1. They immediately invested money into rebuilding and improving the factories Chrysler was still operating, and brought them up to date with world class engineering. They also made major investments in the Sebring/200 (project D), the Grand Cherokee and the LX replacements. I understand that the initial design phase of these vehicles was begun under Daimler, then Ceberus, but FIAT was the one company that opened up the check book, and gave the designers and engineers the money they needed to make their interiors class competitive, if not class leading.
2. By improving the product, they were able to have almost 4 years of month over month and year over years sales increase, and Chrysler was the only of the big 3 to gain market share during that time frame. The result of this was to make Chrysler a much more valuable entity, which actually ended up costing FIAT in the end, due to the VEBA board looking to sell their shares at a much higher price then they could have asked for otherwise.
3. The vehicles that have come out since the mergers have been substantially better than those they had replaced. Something that could not have been said about Daimler. Starting with the Grand Cherokee, they immediately set the bar and gave notice to the World that Chrysler was back, and wouldn't go down without a fight. As a matter of fact, the 2011 GC was so good, that the prices on used 2011 GC's actually went up by a couple thousand dollars, due to the high demand for these vehicles. When was the last time that had happened with a Chrysler vehicle? They then rolled out the 200, which of course was a major success, especially when compared to the Sebring, the LX's were a big jump forward, as were the improvements made on the Journey. To a lesser extent, they also improved the Compass and Patriots some.
4. The new vehicles which have been introduced by FCA, the Dart and Cherokee are strong vehicles in two of the most competitive segments in the industry, and are light years ahead of the vehicles which they replaced, the Caliber and the Liberty. While the sales of the Dart have been somewhat disappointing, the improvements made over year 1 to year 2 show me that the guys at Chrysler aren't asleep at the switch, but are actively looking for ways to make their produce more competitive.
5, FIAT's leveraged relationships with VM and ZF to bring an 8 and 9 speed to market ahead of the competition, dropped the lousy JATCO CVT's, and finally got the WGE's to be class competitive in NVH, economy and power (which was embarrassing since the same WGE was much better in Hundais and Kias than in the Chrysler vehicles.
Going by this list, which based purely on my perspective and "outsider looking in" point of view, I see a completely different attitude and a much stronger spirit of cooperation and mutual success. As far as I'm concerned, Daimler did everything they could to keep Chrysler from competing with Mercedes, and thus took specific actions to destroy their design mojo, quality and consumer perception. FIAT has done the exact opposite, taking money they could have otherwise invested in their own "home brands" and put it here, where it's paid off in great dividends. The bottom line, as far as I can tell, is that the "merger of equals" was a big fat lie, while the "bailout" and "handing it over to the Italians" has turned out much better than anyone could have expected.
While there's definitely room for improvement, especially the launch issues they had with both the Dart and the Cherokee, I am very optimistic for the future.
- Stratuscaster, Dave, 97 plymouth neon expresso and 21 others like this