Chrysler-Fiat maestro Sergio Marchionne admitted to dealers this week that the company had "historically ignored" quality complaints, but vowed that the new Chrysler would banish its ghosts with better technology, such as 9-speed automatic transmissions.
For a man who runs two companies and has been a chief executive for 15 years, Sergio Marchionne likes to see himself as an underdog, a pose he took again with Chrysler dealers on Tuesday. "I am simply a man of industry," said Marchionne, who keeps a Swiss chalet and carries six Blackberries to respond to the 40-odd executives who report directly to him.
Marchionne says despite the naysaying, Chrysler will overcome its numerous past sins, including its long-standing reputation for poor quality:
I raise this issue because it has been a perennial complaint about Chrysler products. You and our customers have been telling us this for a long time. And we have historically ignored the problem.
Those days are gone.
The 9-speed automatic will follow an 8-speed gearbox for rear-wheel-drive cars due in 2011, a combo that Marchionne told dealers would only be matched by "some snotty premium manufacturer out of Europe," which we otherwise know as Mercedes.
Marchionne also detailed just how the next Dodge Viper won approval, saying he and Dodge chief Ralph Gilles had gone over the idea for months, before the company's leaders saw the mocked-up version and approved it as a 2012 model without question.