Chris Vander Doelen, Windsor StarPublished: Tuesday, January 08, 2008
Chrysler's new fifth-generation minivans helped the company hold on to its title as North America's minivan sales leader in 2007, holding off a charging Honda.
Between the minivan victory -- some analysts had predicted Honda's Odyssey would overtake the Dodge Caravan for the sales title -- and record international sales, Chrysler feels it had a pretty good year in 2007, all things considered.
"We think we had an excellent year, considering what went on in the company," Jim Press, vice-chairman and president of Chrysler LLC, said Monday. The sale of the company, as well as its restructuring, plant closures, layoffs and a new labour contract all caused it considerable turmoil.
But Chrysler ended the year on an upward sales trend in December. It set sales records outside the U.S., even though its U.S. sales were down by three per cent, about equal to the shrinkage of the overall market.
Chrysler, which is now owned by private equity company Cerberus Capital Management, is not required to report its financial results publicly.
A number of recent media reports in the U.S. have used that new opacity to cast doubt on Chrysler's financial viability. Some have claimed Chrysler is relying on cheap fleet sales to shore up its sales figures.
Senior Chrysler executives who took part in a conference call Monday did not refer to those speculative reports but seemed anxious to dispel any pessimism about Chrysler's future.
"We have a great future in front of us," Press said. "We're poised to grow and compete with the world's best." The company's year of restructuring has left it leaner and able to move more more quickly than its larger competitors, he said.
"Our fleet sales were actually down in December," Press said.
International sales in 2007 rose by 15 per cent. Canadian sales went up six per cent. But the dip in the U.S., by far its major market, dragged down global sales by one per cent.
Both Press and Stephen Landry, a former president of Chrysler Canada, singled out Canadian sales as a particular bright spot for the company. Chrysler is now the No. 2 automotive company in Canada by sales, having knocked Ford to third place behind General Motors in 2007.
Chrysler's Dodge and Chrysler minivans, most of which are built in Windsor, sold a total of 176,041 units in North America last year. It was second in the minivan segment worldwide, selling 232,000.
Press, who shocked the industry by agreeing to be hired away from Toyota last year, also had praise for his new employer's product lineup and dealer network, which he called "as strong as I've seen in any place."
Chrysler has put its previous inventory problems behind it, according to Stephen Landry, executive vice-president of North American sales.
The company has 438,000 vehicles in stock, Landry said, about 100,000 units or 19 per cent fewer than a year ago. "So we're in pretty good shape." The company has lost billions in the past due to high inventories and model year overlap.