LOS ANGELES — Chrysler LLC may sell its hybrid SUVs only through select dealerships.
Although a company spokesman said no decision has been made, one high-level executive said the choice of whether to sell hybrids would be left to dealers.
"The hybrid will be a limited-volume vehicle," said Michael Accavitti, director of Dodge brand and SRT marketing and communications. "We'll only sell them through dealers who want to sell them."
The company and dealer council are working on a retail plan, said Accavitti, speaking at the launch of the 2008 Dodge Challenger SRT8 muscle car in suburban Los Angeles. Dealers must buy special tools and invest in employee training in order to sell the hybrids.
For Dodge dealers particularly, the fall will be busy. The 2009 Durango Hybrid will arrive at the same time as two other high-profile products: the 2009 Challenger muscle car and the redesigned Ram 1500 pickup. Those three come in addition to the Journey crossover, which went on sale earlier this year.
Dodge needs the new products. Sales of the brand plunged 21 percent in March and are off 17 percent this year. Chrysler LLC sales dropped 19 percent in March and are down 16 percent for the year.
Past programs have required dealership employees to go off site, which can hurt a dealership when things get busy, said Hayden Elder, owner of Elder Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep in Athens, Texas, and Dodge national dealer council chairman.
Dealers are getting ready for a flurry of product introductions.
• April: 2009 Journey crossover
• May: 2008 Challenger SRT8
• Fall: 2009 Ram 1500, 2009 Challenger (3 versions), 2009 Durango hybrid
Chrysler Academy training
This time, training is being done by the in-house Chrysler Academy. Dodge is now teaching Journey sales techniques to about 9,000 salespeople. Similar programs are planned for the Ram and Challenger.
Dodge will send its area and district sales and service managers into stores to train salespeople for the 2009 Ram launch, Elder said.
The two hybrid vehicles will require interested dealers to buy tooling. Training is extensive. Servicing the vehicles can be dangerous if not performed properly, the company said in a statement.
Kevin Wittrock, owner of Wittrock Motor Co., a Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep dealer in Carroll, Iowa, also prefers on-site training when possible.
"It's hard to send our guys off site. The climate we're in now, we're diving after every loose ball. I prefer the Web-based training. Their Web-based training is very good."
Elder points to the Dodge Caliber launch in 2006 as an instance in which the company got everything right.
"We trained the entire dealership, not just the sales department. ... Everybody in the store got an immersion in what the Caliber was."