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Chrysler CEO vows to strengthen relationship with dealers

From The Detroit News| February 05,2007

Mending fences with disgruntled auto dealers will be Chrysler CEO Tom LaSorda's key mission this weekend at the National Automobile Dealers Association convention in Las Vegas, he told reporters today.

LaSorda said DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler Group has made progress in rebuilding trust among dealers, though he acknowledged that a series of serious missteps by the company has made it difficult to repair the relationship. He has said his No. 1 job this year will be to boost dealer profitability.

"The dealer thing is about credibility and trust," LaSorda said, speaking to reporters during the event. "And we're building that."

LaSorda declined to provide details of Chrysler's upcoming restructuring, which is expected to be announced Feb. 14. "We're going to do what we need to do," he said.

A strong January -- sales were up 3.2 percent over January 2006 -- as well as more consistency from the company is helping improve the relationship with dealers, LaSorda said.

DaimlerChrysler in January surpassed Ford Motor Co. as the nation's No. 3 automaker behind General Motors Corp. and Toyota Motor Co.

Chrysler riled dealers by pushing them to take cars and trucks they often couldn't sell. The controversy was a factor in the resignation last month of sales and marketing chief Joe Eberhardt. LaSorda took over Eberhardt's job.

"We built too much and we pushed too much," LaSorda said. "We made mistakes. We admitted it."

He also took issue with an assessment made Friday by analyst and former GM adviser Stephen Girsky, who said there needs to be 60 to 70 percent fewer domestic auto dealers if those businesses are to compete with Japanese car-selling rivals.

"I don't know what Steve was drinking when he said that," LaSorda said.

He wouldn't estimate how many dealers Chrysler must shed to be healthy.

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