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Chrysler gets on growth freeway with new models

Grand Cherokee, Charger help firm to post double-digit growth

Jack Rodencal, Managing-director at Chrysler Group ME
Image Credit: Pankaj Sharma/Gulf News
Jack Rodencal, Managing-director at Chrysler Group ME
Gulf News

Dubai: The turmoil of early 2009 that led to bankruptcy proceedings now seems like a distant memory for Chrysler. At the US automaker's regional operations, that unfortunate chapter has been erased from the memory banks after the brand achieved strong double-digit growth in the year to date.

So much so, the only niggle Chrysler — which is now majority owned by Italy's Fiat Group — has at the moment is not having enough shipments of its most popular models.

"In some instances the supply shortfall will carry into the next year or so," said Jack Rodencal, managing director at Chrysler Group ME.

"We thought we were aggressive in our planning for this year, but the fact is we ended up being conservative. For 2012, the projections will be more in line with the actual consumer demand."

In 2009 Fiat stepped in to pick up a stake in Chrysler in a bid to turn the company around. The Fiat stake has since been raised to more than 50 per cent.

While the region's overall automotive market grew by an anaemic 2 per cent, Chrysler managed 12 per cent, with its line-up of higher priced Jeep models providing 40 per cent of the overall unit volumes and muscle to its bottom-line.

"We more than tripled the Grand Cherokee volumes and every Jeep model is up year-on-year," said Rodencal.

"The only problem we have now after some of the model changeovers, we couldn't get the new production in as fast as we wanted."

By accounting for 40 per cent of the units shipped to the region, Saudi Arabia is by far the biggest market for the brand. The process has been helped along by new dealership facilities in key locations.

The process is being repeated in the UAE where Sharjah will have a new showroom as will Al Ain.

And with a little more help from buyers, the brand is looking at 2012 delivering in the region of 15,000 units and on course to record the best performance in the region since the glory days of 2008. Last year's tally was 12,665 vehicles.

Mid-size hopes

This is why so much hope is vested in the mid-size sedan, the 200, which will be launched early next year.

Ahead of the launch, the model was put through its paces during a three-week test run from Oman to Kuwait in the extreme conditions of this summer.

"It has to perform in the environment and everyone knows it can be a very tough one for any car," said Rodencal. "It was part of a thermal test we did for a variety of new products and conducted by our thermal engineering team.

"You are not going to be successful just selling to your existing owner base. What we did this year was capture buyers from our competition — you do not grow in a flat industry without doing so."

Apart from the 200C, there will also be the introduction of the Limited Edition 300C. On the existing line up, most of the key models have been refreshed such as the Grand Cherokee launched late year, as well as for the Charger, Challenger and Wrangler.

"For one of our best-selling models, the Dodge Charger, the launch happened in May and we are looking forward to improving the numbers further by having full 12-month availability next year," the official added.

Guess the New Year can't come soon enough for Chrysler.

Chrysler sales in the region in 2010

John Rodencal's association with Chrysler runs a lot deeper than the 25 years he has put in at the company. Both his father and grandfather were owners of a Dodge dealership in Wisconsin.

Which could be why leaving was never even given a thought as the crisis which overtook the company in late 2008. "In October 2008, every employee got an offer to leave the company; I was in Germany at the time and for me it was nothing more than a 30-second experience as I was confident we could survive. I never looked for a job.

"When I went back to the US, it was a very difficult experience at the beginning of 2009. There were empty rooms. But you go there today and once again it's a vibrant company to be in. It's been a 180-degree turn."

Following the Fiat association, a new entity emerged out of the doldrums in the form of Chrysler Group LLC. Apart from the financial support pumped in, Fiat is also providing technology and the platforms for Chrysler's small- and medium-sized cars.