Keynote! Chrysler CEO Nardelli Heralds New Era of "Globality" At Struggling Carmaker

Did you know that Bob Nardelli is a "car guy?" He is, baby. Of course, that didn't stop him from trotting out something that most legit car guys would rather drink used motor oil than sit through: the dreaded pie-in-the-sky biz-speak PowerPoint presentation. Post-breakfast, as a roomful of eyes slowly glazed, Nardellli walked the automotive press and assorted onlookers through Chrysler's plan to pursue "globality." It was the mighty New York Auto Show keynote, and we were there.

"Globality"—we think it has something to do with selling cars overseas, even though Chrysler only managed to move just over 200,000 internationally last year, or maybe giving Chrysler products an "international" look—is the key to "returning Chrysler to profitability" as an independent company, Nardelli insisted. Thus will they achieve an enviable state of globality-ness. He figures Chrysler under his direction can do this because it's really a "$60 billion startup company." (Was that a subliminal valuation to potential buyers being tossed out there?) This from a grizzled veteran of American business—and a real car guy, too, remember—who's been in the game for almost 40 years and whose pre-Chryslerberus experience came at GE and Home Depot. Power plants and lumber. Startup? Makes ya wonder.

Oops, did we allude to Cerberus Capital Management, the private equity concern that's Chrysler's current owner? Nardelli sure didn't. He spent more time talking about Walter Chrysler and Lee Iacocca—not to mention the Chrysler Building in New York itself, an Art Deco landmark and shrine to all that the American automobile once stood for that Chrysler vacated in the fifties. (Company HQ is now a fairly weird-looking building in Auburn Hills—we know this because Nardelli brought a slide.)

Apart from dispensing Six Sigma by osmosis, Nardelli's primary goal in delivering the keynote seemed to be to sell the press on Chryslers efforts to "rightsize our business," i.e. shed personnel and close facilities in order to meet Cerberus' firesale turnaround goals. With a less cynical crowd, her might have succeeded; he's a gruff yet suave fella, the kind of man who emanates "decisionmaker." To his credit, he acknowledged that Chrysler's customer satisfaction isn't where it should be. He also broke out of trance-rave PowerPoint mode long enough to run a Challenger video clip, to illustrate the "visceral and emotional appeal of our automobiles." There was a thumpy car-guy soundtrack. Then back to the PP slides.

In the end, kind of a downer, to kick off the New York Auto Show. It was raining outside, under a gray sky in Manhattan. But the clouds were a lot darker inside the Javits Center, at least where Chrysler's corporate leadership is concerned. Onward to globality, however. Vroom!