One year ago, says The New York Times, Chrysler didn't display a single car at the North American International Auto Show, a premiere event that takes place in the company's hometown of Detroit. The carmaker, which was forced to declare bankruptcy at the height of the recession, was in such dire straits that "rival executives were taking bets" on how long it would survive. But the second half of 2010 proved profitable for Chrysler, and with the company introducing several new or redesigned models at this year's show, it's looking more and more "like the obituaries were premature." With refreshed styling and a more stable financial outlook, can Chrysler recapture some of its past glory? (See the latest Chrysler model on display)
What has the company rolled out so far?
On Monday, Chrysler unveiled a new and improved 300 model. The iconic car, first introduced in 1957, had not been revamped in eight years, and sales had plummeted. This redesign is "the most important of Chrysler's new models," says the Detroit Free Press, as "the 300 will be judged by how much it elevates Chrysler into a more formidable competitor in the luxury car market" — an area where the company needs to establish itself to stay competitive.
How are the reviews?
Early notices are positive. Jerry Garrett in the Times says that Chrysler has done away with its Material Cost Management team, a notorious "accounting hit squad" that used to look for ways to make cars on the cheap. This new model, as a result, looks as though it has "been freed to evolve into an altogether more refined and upscale vehicle." And Nelson Ireson at Motor Authority says the new 300 boasts "more features, a sharp look, and a low starting price."
What else does Chrysler have planned?
Beyond the new 300, Chrysler is hoping that its Jeep brand will spur sales overseas. In 2010, Chrysler introduced a redesigned version of the popular Grand Cherokee model, which helped Jeep sales climb 26 percent. And with the famous off-road vehicle celebrating its 70th anniversary, Chrysler is hoping to capitalize on its international reputation. "Jeep is one of the best known brands in world," says the company's president — "it's as recognizable as Coca Cola." Chrysler — now owned in part by Italian automaker Fiat — will also import a fleet of the small, fuel-efficient Italian cars to the United States, their first appearance on American shores in 30 years.
So when will the company be profitable?
It is expected to show a net profit in 2011, and "appears to be positioned to gain market share for the first time in several years." Sales were up 16 percent in 2010. Still, while Chrysler's economic outlook isn't nearly as bleak as it had been, the company still lags behind Ford (which never had to declare bankruptcy) and General Motors. Chrysler still hopes to refinance its debt and ready an initial public offering in 2011.
Are there skeptics?
Most definitely. Though "everyone roots for the underdog," says Mike Quincy in Consumer Reports, customers rate Chryslers below other brands for reliability — and most Chrysler cars still "lag behind competing models in our tests of fuel economy, visibility, noise, ride, braking, agility, and front-seat comfort." So while surveys show the general public seems to be buying into Chrysler's new image, only "time will tell if the products have some substance behind the hype."