Special Coverage

NADA Convention & Exposition

SAN FRANCISCO – Chrysler LLC is launching “Project Genesis,” a new company-wide initiative to streamline its product lineup, Vice Chairman and President Jim Press reveals at the annual National Automobile Dealers Assn. conference here.

But contrary to various media reports, Press says there is no specific number as to how many products the auto maker will offer across its three brands: Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep.

“(We) don’t know how many models we’re going to have,” he says. “Nobody knows that.

“We’re going to be adding models and taking them away,” he says. “The reality is we’re going to have a product portfolio of world-class quality that covers as much of the market as we can.”

Press does hint the auto maker has too many SUVs in its lineup.

“Do we need 11 SUVs for a 2.5 million-a-year (unit) car company?” he says.

Press’ comments come after an 8-day tour in which he visited some 3,000 Chrysler dealers across the country and asked their opinions on which vehicles should stay and which should go.

While he declines to reveal specific models that were discussed, he does say there are opportunities for vehicles in segments where the auto maker doesn’t currently have a strong presence.

Chrysler also has too many models that compete against one other, Press says, citing the auto maker’s new Dodge Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country minivans as examples.

“We could spread that (competition) out and have a really great van for families and mature people, and we could have a van with a good youthful appeal that brings a new kind of customer into the showroom,” he tells Ward’s on the sidelines of the convention here.

Industry analyst John Casesa, managing partner of Casesa Shapiro LLC, welcomes talk of paring Chrysler’s lineup.

“I think it’s just what the doctor ordered,” he tells Ward’s. “It’s imperative to match product flow with assembly capacity and distribution capability.”

Chrysler ordered a 10% production cut in November, a move it accomplished through strategic shift reductions. At the same time, the auto maker announced it was ending output of the Chrysler Pacifica and Dodge Magnum cross/utility vehicles, Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible and Chrysler Crossfire sports car.

But Casesa urges caution. “You might have a single-line Dodge guy who does really well,” he says. “And if you take the minivan away from him, you not only destroy him, it can hurt you because you don’t have a Chrysler guy in that market.”

In addition to streamlining Chrysler’s product lineup, a key element of Project Genesis involves thinning the auto maker’s dealer ranks.

Press hints dealer reduction largely will take place through attrition.

“We’re looking for (the ideal dealer count),” he says. “We’re not going to find it from the top down, we’re going to find it from the bottom up. We’re going through each market and developing an ideal scenario for each market.”

Press says the plan is to have more dealers that sell all three Chrysler brands under one roof because they are more profitable and have the “full benefit of (the) product portfolio.”

He calls Project Genesis a road map for the auto maker to become a world-class competitor.

“Not so high in volumes, but high in profits,” Press says.

– with Eric Mayne

bpope@wardsauto.com