Monday, November 9, 2009

The good, the odd, the testy in eventful week



Italian pride

The most welcome surprise in Chrysler-Fiat's 5-year plan?

The nifty little 500 city car will proudly wear a Fiat badge when it goes on sale in Chrysler dealerships in early 2011.

Widespread reports said the cool little car would have no brand name, selling simply as "the 500." Conventional wisdom held that Americans would not buy a Fiat, scared off by the dreadful quality that ran the automaker out of the United States a generation ago.

Please. Most of us can barely remember who won the World Series last year.

Fiat has a proud history of offering small cars with style, innovation and value. Dropping the brand name would make the 500 an orphan on arrival, the automotive equivalent of cafeteria "mystery meat." Fiat's name ties the car to a heritage of Italian design that stretches from the Trevi Fountain to Giorgio Armani.
The answer is ... Ridgeline?

The oddest revelation in Chrysler's overview of upcoming new vehicles came when product-planning boss Joe Veltri rhapsodized over the unibody midsize pickup he hopes Chrysler will build in 2011.

Chrysler plans to drop the Dodge Dakota midsize pickup that year. The new Ram truck-only brand may replace it with a pickup built on a car-type unibody chassis, Veltri said. He promised the vehicle would offer appealing and unique features, but unibody pickups have a 30-year history of failing to win American buyers that stretches from the 1979 Volkswagen Rabbit pickup to today's under-performing Honda Ridgeline.

Unibody pickups offer better fuel economy than conventional trucks, but they can't tow or haul as much. Dodge's proposed truck-ette faces an uphill climb if it doesn't change that equation.

Alfa-less soup

Enthusiasts looking for details on Alfa Romeo's return to the United States left Wednesday's Chrysler-Fiat briefing disappointed. The legendary sport-luxury brand, which Fiat owns, barely rated a footnote. That's despite widespread reports that Alfa will get one or two Chrysler-based vehicles, build at least two additional vehicles in Chrysler's North American assembly plants and import other cars like the MiTo subcompact sport coupe from Europe.

Chrysler-Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne brushed off Alfa's absence. Potential Alfa production of 60,000 to 70,000 vehicles a year at Chrysler plants is so small it's virtually irrelevant to Chrysler's success, he said, adding that the brand has yet to convince him it has a plan to make money in North America.

Alfa's return also relies heavily on a couple of cars the brand has not revealed yet -- the Milano and Giulia sport sedans. It's likely Alfa will unveil them at events where it doesn't have to share the spotlight with Chrysler's turnaround strategy.
Pandering, German style

Anybody who thinks American politicians or unions are uniquely guilty of treating their constituents like simpletons wasn't paying attention to the German reaction when GM said it would restructure Opel rather than sell 55% of it to a Canadian-Russian consortium.

Based on the outraged reaction -- which included walkouts at GM's German plants -- you'd think Magna-Sberbank promised to hire thousands of new workers. In truth, the Russo-Canadian partners planned slightly more job cuts than the 10,000 GM says it will make to return Opel to profitability.

GM's name is dirt in Germany right now. German politicians parlayed fear over job losses into months of feckless campaign promises. Union leaders who chafe under American ownership ignored economic reality and blamed GM for all Opel's problems. Opel employees and the German public understandably concluded that GM ran Opel into the ground and only new owners can save it.

The truth is far different, but GM faces a major hurdle undoing the damage and convincing German workers and consumers to support Opel.

There's no time to waste. GM must salvage Opel's image -- and its own -- before the damage becomes irreparable.

source:freeb