The Italian Job At Chrysler

Remarking on the rebound of Chrysler — posting sales increases north of 30 percent — a friend recently asked… “so what’s suddenly so great about Chrysler?”

First, the comeback statistics appear more spectacular because in 2009 Chrysler sold fewer cars than in 1962. It was deep hole to climb back from.

More significantly, the mid-decade performance of Chrysler demonstrates the stark reality of bad management. When the company was run by private equity players, they were leveraging brands, drilling down costs and squeezing equity. Unfortunately they were also building really crappy cars.

Even successes, like the sleekly authentic Challenger, were overshadowed by blunders like the boxy and uninspired Charger.

Today, under the management of Italian car giant Fiat, the comeback is largely an improvement on existing models. A recent test drive of several Chrysler vehicles was convincing testimony to the power of corporate culture on product design and execution.

The Dodge Journey SXT a $25,000 mixed breed family suv and minivan, proved exceptionally comfortable and flexible for people and cargo, with decent mid-20s mileage stats. The Jeep Patriot Limited is far sturdier and value packed with options for $25,000 than its earlier versions. Even the Florida rental favorite, the new Chrysler 200 retractable hardtop convertible, shows touches of Italian design flair.