Changes brewing at ‘the New Chrysler’

Changes brewing at ‘the New Chrysler’

Michigan: From the executive suite to showroom lots, Chrysler LLC is wasting no time in trying to persuade customers that it has come out from under the wing of its former German owners.

It has hired Deborah Wahl Meyer, vice president of marketing at Lexus, the luxury division of Toyota, as its new vice president and chief marketing officer. She will take over her new assignment on 28August.

Her appointment came just 10 days after Chrysler's new owner, Cerberus Capital Management, hired Robert L. Nardelli, the former chief executive at Home Depot, to run the auto company.

Meyer's appointment was announced as Chrysler dealers across the country planned to celebrate "the New Chrysler," as the company calls itself on its website, in its advertisements and in company literature, at events planned at showrooms nationwide, starting 15August.

Meyer succeeds George Murphy, a former executive with General Electric and the Ford Motor Co., who left Chrysler in May, shortly after it was sold to Cerberus, a private equity firm. The deal closed 3August.

Chrysler did not make Meyer available for interviews, but Jason Vines, the Chrysler vice president for corporate communications, said she would bring "fresh eyes" to the company, which lost its traditional No.3 spot in the American market last year to her former employer, Toyota.

"She thinks this is just such a great opportunity at this time," Vines said. "She likes game-changing stuff. Obviously the game has been changed here with private ownership."

Cerberus bought 80.1% of Chrysler from its former parent, DaimlerChrysler, which is keeping a 19.9% stake.

The sale came nine years after Chrysler and Daimler-Benz merged, and ended an era in which Chrysler lost market share and went through a roller coaster ride of profits and losses, including a $1.5 billion (Rs6,000 crore) loss in 2006.

Despite a recent rise in auto sales, credited to 10 new vehicles introduced in the last year, Chrysler fell to fifth place in the American market last month, behind General Motors, Toyota, Ford and Honda.

Moreover, its marketing operations have been something of a revolving door. Murphy's predecessor, Joseph Eberhardt, left the company in 2006, after angering dealers by pushing them to accept more vehicles than they could sell.

Many refused to take more cars, and at one point last year, Chrysler had more than 100,000 vehicles parked on lots in the Detroit area for which it had no dealer orders.

To win customers back, Meyer must show that the company is different, not only from its previous incarnation but also from its American competitors, said William J. Ward, a professor of marketing at Alfred University in Alfred, N.Y.

"A lot of the US brands, including Chrysler, lost any distinction and became kind of generic," Ward said. "They're going to have to reconnect with the customers and re-establish some kind of differentiation between themselves and their competition."

Nardelli's arrival last week coincided with a marketing campaign based on the theme, "The New Chrysler: Get Ready for the Next Hundred Years." (It does not say what will happen after 2107.) The campaign, in newspapers, magazines and on the Web, is planned to run through August.

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