Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Chrysler may offer 9 new vehicles in 2010


Jim Press, a Chrysler LLC vice chairman, says he expects the economy to rebound in 2010.

Analysts unsure


Chrysler executives are talking about a "product renaissance" in 2010 when the company plans to launch seven, eight, or, perhaps nine new vehicles.

Jim Press, a Chrysler president and vice chairman, will mark his first anniversary with the Auburn Hills automaker today in a speech to the Automotive Press Association in Detroit and he's expected to talk about how the struggling No. 3 U.S. automaker is doing with its efforts to remake itself as a private company.

His speech in Detroit comes after Press traveled through California last week, talking about those efforts and about Chrysler's work to build electric cars -- and taking shots at General Motors Corp.'s much-publicized Chevy Volt.

Press even promised seven vehicles would be launched in 2010, when he believes the economy will begin improving. "For our company, we're going to have a product renaissance in 2010 ... just as the market is coming back," Press said, according to video that captured a speech in San Francisco last week. "We're not on the ropes," he added. "We're not worried."

His comments echo those recently made by Chrysler's top procurement officer, John Campi, who said Chrysler would launch eight or nine new vehicles in 2010. The difference in the number of new vehicles slated for 2010 is probably because of what the executives consider as a separate vehicle versus a variation of a vehicle.

The automaker's top executives were recently told about the new plans. "We have a loaded product plan that we just shared with our entire management team because, in fact, it's taken us awhile to determine what our product plan should look like for the future," Campi said.

Surprising talk

Talk about such a healthy product pipeline is much different from what industry analysts have been predicting in recent months.

Credit rating firms such as Fitch Ratings have spoken cautiously about Chrysler's future product lineup. "Chrysler's pipeline over the near term is relatively modest, and the company's product lineup will lag the industry's shift to smaller, fuel-efficient vehicles," Fitch wrote over the summer.

Some analysts have said 2010 will bring three to five new vehicles for Chrysler. Erich Merkle, an industry analyst with Crowe Chizek and Co., an accounting and consulting firm, has said Chrysler's future pipeline will have a rough stretch until 2010. But he's only predicting five new models in 2010: the Jeep Grand Cherokee, a Dodge midsized SUV possibly called the Durango, Chrysler 300, Dodge Charger and a small car made by Nissan but sold under a Chrysler nameplate.

"Maybe there is some variant that you could start counting. There are ways to double-count some things sometimes. It's a bit of a stretch," Merkle said.

While U.S. auto sales are down for many, Chrysler has been hit particularly hard, seeing its sales fall 24% so far this year. The market shift to more fuel-efficient cars hurts Chrysler, known for selling Jeeps, minivans and pickups.

Since Cerberus Capital Management took majority control last August -- and hired Press away from Toyota -- Chrysler has undergone dramatic changes, including the elimination of four products and taken out 1.1 million units of capacity. Over the past two years, the automaker has announced plans to eliminate about 28,000 jobs.

"We really have a game plan, a strategy is being executed. ... If it took us 10 years to get into this mess, we're not going to fix it in 10 days, in 10 weeks, or in 10 months," Press said. "It takes three years to start fixing the product pipeline and maybe beyond that."

Breakthroughs expected

Press' speech in San Francisco last week was captured on video by theautochannel.com. He also spoke last week in Los Angeles.

During those appearances, Press talked about Chrysler's efforts to bring an electric-drive car to market -- something GM has promised to do with the Chevrolet Volt in 2010.

Press said Chrysler recently showed members of its dealer council "post-prototype" electric vehicles and had them drive them "to see that we're much closer than people may think to producing a salable pure electric ... a plug-in electric and a range-extended vehicle. We're evaluating all three of those concepts."

"We don't have enough money for a PR stunt. All we have is enough money to build a car that we can sell," Press said in San Francisco. "It's a little different philosophy. We don't have enough money to talk about what we're going to sell in the next five years. But we will be able to show you soon what we're going to be selling in the next couple of years. We're going to be able to achieve some breakthroughs in adapting technology."

Asked if Chrysler's vehicle was as far away as the Volt, which GM first showed in January 2007, Press responded: "I don't really know where GM is. I know that they've been selling the Volt now for five years. A big part of that depends upon the battery technology that nobody's quite figured out yet."

John Schenden, owner of Pro Chrysler Jeep in Denver, said he was shown prototypes about three weeks ago during a meeting in Detroit and was impressed.

"It was terrific," he said declining to give specifics because of confidentially reasons. "All I know is that I am more excited about their product line than I have been in years and years and years."

No comments: