Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Nardelli Upbeat On Niche Markets

2002 Chrysler  Prowler
2002 Chrysler Prowler

Prowler past echoes for Chrysler CEO at Cruise.
by Joseph Szczesny

Who knew? Chrysler's new chairman and chief executive officer Bob Nardelli turns out to be something of a fan of niche vehicles.

Nardelli, after shaking hands and chatting with fans of the old Plymouth Prowler at the Walter P. Chrysler Museum adjacent to Chrysler headquarters in Auburn Hills, told reporters he thought niche vehicles had a lot of merit.

"This is what brings excitement," said Nardelli, who, in one of his first acts as Chrysler's top executive, brought his own personal Prowler up from Atlanta for the annual Woodward Dream Cruise this past weekend. "I love cars and I love to drive them," he said as he moved to establish his credentials as the top executive at a car company.

"This (Prowler Owners Association) is a niche group but its (enthusiasm) is going to transfer across the entire product line, We (plan) to spend a lot of time understanding the customer," said Nardelli, who also tried not to turn his comments into an implicit criticism of Chrysler's past practices.

"The team has done a great job. We're going to do more of that. You really have to have a keen eye and a sensitivity to bold, demanding designs that meet the aspirational desire of customers," he said. "In this case, we have a more discerning group," said Nardelli, who already talking about the regional differences among car buyers within the U.S. In the past, American carmakers, despite lip service to regional differences, have had something of a tin ear when trying to separate them.

"We have to understand the demographics and the geographics. Both of those things are important as you look at the Baby Boomers, if you look at the diversity in our population," he said.

Nardelli also said he has already had an extensive session with Chrysler designers to get a better feeling for the company's product development process. "We went through hundreds of criteria when I was with Trevor (Creed) in the design center, trying to understand, what are the aspirational desires? Where are they going, for fuel-efficiency, for comfort?".

"The table (in Chrysler's new minivan) is a perfect example of the sensitivity Chrysler has towards customers," he added. "I think the new minivan speaks volumes about our sensitivity to the customer particularly in that demographic - family, family comfort and family features are critical," he said.

Nardelli said he is also impressed with the knowledge and passion for cars he's found during his initial meetings with Chrysler employees and department heads.

"There are men and women who know this business intimately. What I bring is fresh set of eyes. I've had a history of being able to move through a variety of businesses," which makes him sensitive to how industries change and evolve, he said.

Nardelli also said the company has enough resources implement its recovery plan without cuts in capital spending despite recent gyrations in the financial markets.

"We're in really good shape. Fortunately, I get to focus on just working with the team to run the company," Nardelli said.

"We're very fortunate in having gotten this deal done on time and on schedule, Now we're focusing on looking forward," he said.

Nor will Chrysler have to cut capital spending to pay its debts. "No. (Cerberus) has done a wonderful job. They've got us the capital financing and the financing that we need. Our job is to have flawless execution, to really focus on the fundamentals of the recovery and the transformation plan. I'll be spending a lot of time on the various work modules with the various members of the leadership team, looking at revenue. Certainly looking at what we need to do on quality," Nardelli said. "Looking from an environmental standpoint where we're going with our products," he said.

"We've got a great pipeline," added Nardelli. "Looking at some of the future products we've got coming out it's just fantastic," Nardelli added.

No comments: