There is no question about who is in the driver’s seat at Chrysler LLC.

Not only is Chairman and CEO Bob Nardelli steering the auto maker’s business plan, he has his foot on the throttle – and brake – of the product-development process.

“I’m not a designer, but I am a consumer,” Nardelli says, defending his credentials. During his celebrated stint as CEO of Home Depot Inc., which boasted 1.3 billion transactions annually, Nardelli says he has “a feel for what consumers like.”

Making a guest appearance at a Magazine Publishers of America conference, Nardelli’s remarks come against a backdrop of speculation about the future of Chrysler’s product pipeline. Led by new product-strategy chief Jim Press, the auto maker is conducting an intensive review to better align its product range with market conditions.

The Chrysler Pacifica cross/utility vehicle will be among the first to go, Ward’s learns. Other media reports suggest the Dodge Magnum and Chrysler PT Cruiser CUVs are in peril, along with the Chrysler Sebring midsize sedan.

Nardelli, who owns an ’01 Plymouth Prowler and drove it to a Prowler owners’ gathering at the Walter P. Chrysler Museum just 10 days after joining the auto maker, pilots a different vehicle to work every day.

“Then I meet my chief engineer in the garage, and we go over a few items,” Nardelli says, evoking chuckles from the crowd. “We’ve had some good discussions.”

However, Nardelli observes boundaries when offering his input. “If things are going well, you don’t micromanage,” he says.

Insiders say Nardelli also is seeking more advice from dealers.

In a nod to an evolving Chrysler initiative to improve the quality of its vehicle interiors, Nardelli says interiors are critical when courting customer satisfaction.

“I think a vehicle today has to be your most favorite room under your roof,” he says.

And customer satisfaction is a hallmark of his plan to invigorate Chrysler under Cerberus Capital Management LP, its new owners. Nardelli calls on every Chrysler employee to be “laser-focused” on producing quality products that also have a light environmental footprint – a growing element of customer satisfaction.

The proper execution of measures to improve customer satisfaction “is the most important strategy we’ve got,” he adds. But re-establishing close ties with dealers also ranks highly.

Within the last 12 months, when bloated inventories flared tension between Chrysler and its dealer network, the two wides were “more adversarial than partners,” Nardelli says.

This year will be different as he promises year-end inventories will be 100,000 units below the 2006 total of 538,438.

Nardelli also expresses confidence that Chrysler’s ability to compete will improve with a new labor contract under its belt. The United Auto Workers union approved the 4-year deal Oct. 27 with assemblers, skilled trades and salaried personnel voting 56%, 51% and 79% in favor, respectively.

Nardelli praises UAW President Ron Gettelfinger and his own manufacturing chief Tom LaSorda, for establishing a lower-wage tier for new hires in non-production jobs such as maintenance.

“That’s revolutionary,” he says, adding: “As they come up the curve, of course, they’ll (move) up the pay scale.”

Less than 100 days into his tenure at the top of Chrysler, Nardelli describes his job as “a dream come true.”

“I’ve always loved technology,” he says. “Where else could you go and have very high-level intellectual discussions about drivetrains? It’s just an exhilarating, exciting thing.”

Living out his days on the multi million-dollar severance he received from The Home Depot was never an option, says Nardelli, adding he is compelled to work.

“I don’t do much else,” he says.

emayne@wardsauto.com