Thursday, August 16, 2007

Bulkley had idea, Chrysler listened

It's common in the auto industry for a manufacturer to call local dealers for their ideas. What the manufacturers are looking for are ways to stir up the market and improve sales and the company's image.

The dealers provide ideas from time to time, but often that's the end of it.

But a recent suggestion by dealer Bob Bulkley — head of the family-owned Expressway Dodge in Evansville — to offer a Chrysler lifetime powertrain warranty apparently got the attention of Chrysler officials.

Bulkley is being credited by some company officials for helping to formulate the idea behind the company's new lifetime powertrain warranty, which was introduced a couple of weeks ago at Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep dealerships nationwide.

The warranty — the first of its kind in the industry — lasts as long as a person owns a vehicle. The coverage includes the motor, transmission, differential and all the drive lines, according to Bulkley.

The warranty is being applied to new 2007 and 2008 Chrysler products.

Chrysler previously had guaranteed vehicle powertrains for 36 months or three years, though some other companies, including General Motors, offered warranties for up to 100,000 miles.

The 63-year-old Bulkley first made his pitch for the unusual warranty in February during a brainstorming conference call, which included Kurt Spieler, Chrysler's district field manager based in St. Louis.

Bulkley recalls telling Spieler: "This is just going to sound absolutely nuts. But, before you hang up on me, listen to what I'm saying. It (idea) may sound absurd but it is way more practical than you might think."

After Spieler heard Bulkley's lifetime warranty suggestion, there was a minute of silence. Then Spieler told Bulkley: "You know, I like the idea. With the right kind of guidelines in place, it could show that the manufacturer has great confidence in its product."

Spieler said it was the first time he had heard a lifetime warranty suggested. Bulkley later brought the idea to the attention of Mike Buchanan, Chrysler's district operations manager. Soon the idea traveled up the channels of corporate communication, was fine-tuned along the way, and it eventually became a reality, said Spieler.

"Bob's input was very respected," he said. "When a good idea like his comes along we try to send it up the flagpole."

Bulkley said his dealership had been combating competitors' powertrain warranties, whose lifespan was longer than Chrysler's.

Since the lifetime powertrain warranty recently came out, Expressway Dodge's sales have increased by 30 percent to 35 percent.

Having a role in the formulation of the warranty offering is a great feeling, Bulkley said. Will there be a bonus for him?

"Oh, no. We're all in this to sell automobiles," Bulkley said.

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