Chrysler: Not Many Straws Left to Clutch

2011 Chrysler 300c from a sketch: An improvement, yes?

2011 Chrysler 300C from a sketch: An improvement, yes?

One of the straws Chrysler wants to hang onto is leasing, though the company can’t presume to make gobs of money that way. Before the big bust, Chrysler reputedly made 10-15 percent in leasing cars, and that kind of market just isn’t there today. But it is good news that Chrysler leasing resumes today, with special deals and lease plans on the Chrysler Town & Country, Dodge Grand Caravan, Ram 1500 and Journey, and the Jeep Wrangler and Liberty.

All 2010 models are available now for lease, with zero-percent financing (or cash back) on selected models. You can get $4,500 off on some 2009s.

The big problem in making money through leasing is vehicle depreciation, especially so in a down economy, and especially so with cars the market deems less desirable, e.g., Chrysler products. The company obviously feels it has to offer leasing, since GM resumed it last month, and both carmakers, though especially Chrysler, are cursed with low resale values. You can’t afford to be in the lease market, and you can’t afford to be out of it.

The bigger problem is this: What does Chrysler have to offer that is distinct from, or better than, what its competitors are parading? The answer—you guessed it—is not much. GM is rolling out new and redesigned vehicles, and we all know Ford is pushing hard, but the Big C, as reported today,

has had little to tout. Its most recent new market entries are the Dodge Challenger muscle car—essentially a re-bodied Dodge Charger sedan—and the Ram pick-up.

The only new product Chrysler has entering the market this year is an industrial-duty version of the Ram truck. After that, a new version of the Jeep Grand Cherokee mid-sized SUV isn’t expected until the middle of next year.

So Rescuer-in-Chief Sergio Marchionne is not a happy guy. “We were surprised by how little had been done [at Chrysler] in the past 24 months,” said Mr. Fiat, even while he announced that Fiat would reopen a former Bertone plant in Italy. It will make Chrysler cars (which ones Marchionne would not specify) beginning in 2011. “Sources,” according to egmCarTech, say the European version of the 300C will be built there.

Anyhow, it may be that we will all have to wait until November, when Chrysler releases its full business plan. Marchionne was coy with reporters about going any further.

We don’t have to be coy, do we? What do you think are Chrysler’s chances for recapturing its former market share in minivans, SUVs, and trucks?

—jgoods

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