Car Guy

Nothing New at Chrysler

Fiat takes the doomed company for one last bad ride.

By 10.22.09

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The "new" Chrysler has just partnered with Fiat but the cars it's selling are still old. Ancient, actually. The PT Cruiser, Sebring, 300 sedan and Town & Country minivan. All pretty much the same for 2010 as they were for 2009. And in several cases, the same as they were for 2008.

And 2007, too.

For reporters who write about new stuff, there is nothing to write about -- and won't be, for a year or more. I haven't test driven a new Chrysler in months -- and likely won't for months to come -- because there are no new Chryslers to test.

The alarming (for Chrysler) fact is the company hasn't got a single all-new model due out until later in 2010 -- when a redone version of the 300 sedan will make its debut.

Can Chrysler hold out that long with a product line that was yesterday's news last year? Will Fiat subsidize Chrysler's dealerships -- or is the real plan to use them as distribution points for its own models? If so, what happens to all those stacked up inventories of Chrysler vehicles? (There are still leftover and brand-new 2008s available as of fall 2009.) What happens to Chrysler assembly lines and workers? To suppliers of components for Chrysler vehicles.

And: What about the wheelbarrows full of taxpayer cash that went to "save" Chrysler?

Given the lack of new product, a few things seem likely. First is that Chrysler is probably not going to survive -- as a maker of vehicles, that is. Its dealer network and even the name may continue to exist -- but only as conduits for Fiats, which will be sold under the Chrysler name and through those onetime Chrysler dealers. Most of the profits, if any, will be going to Fiat (and back to Italy).

American taxpayers will have thus financed the acquisition of Chrysler's few remaining valuable assets (its dealer network) by a foreign automaker. An automaker that will then be competing with the two still-standing American car companies, GM and Ford. It will be a new kind of outsourcing: U.S. workers paying for their own economic disfranchisement.

First the Germans. Now the Italians.

It was the Germans, you see, who ruined Chrysler. It wasn't the economy or gas prices. It was the "merger of equals" between Chrysler and Daimler, parent company of Mercedes-Benz, years before the economy went south and gas prices sailed over $2 per.

It wasn't a merger, of course. It was a takeover. Benz needed money and Chrysler (at the time) was swimming in it, believe it or not, on the strength of gangbuster hits like the minivan -- which it brought to market first and better than anyone else.

And what did Chrysler get in return? A couple of dated "vehicle platforms" (outgoing versions of the Benz SLK chassis, which became the "Chrysler" Crossfire; and the previous-generation E-Class chassis, which was used to build the original 300 sedan).

Meanwhile, most of the money that should have gone to fund the R&D into new and updated Chrysler models went to finance the expansion of Mercedes into virtually every market niche, down to the minivan-like GL class. The German automaker now boasts 13-plus separate models. It had just eight circa 1999 -- the year after the disastrous (for Chrysler) "merger" of equals.

Danke schön, Daimler-Benz. And danke to you, too, American taxpaying sucker -- since you get to pay for it all.

Now, it's the Italians' turn to feast upon the corpse, with the bill (plus gratuity) falling straight into the laps of the same taxpaying suckers.

Apparently, no one sees it coming. But given the prehistoric model lineup Chrysler has to offer -- and knowing there's nothing new in the pipeline for at least the next six months -- it is hard to understand why more alarm bells aren't sounding.

It may be time to quit throwing good money after bad -- and leave Fiat to finance its expansion on its own nickel instead of ours.

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About the Author

Eric Peters is an automotive columnist and author of Automotive Atrocities: The Cars You Love to Hate (Motor Books International) and a new book, Road Hogs.