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Now The Tough Part: Keeping Chrysler Relevant

Chrysler
CNBC.com
Chrysler

Ask yourself these questions: If you are looking for a new car, truck, or minivan right now, will you buy a Chrysler, Dodge, or Jeep? Will you seriously consider one of those models?

If Chrysler is going to make it through this bankruptcy, it needs most people to answer those questions yes, or at least maybe. If that doesn't happen, this is a company that slips further from relevance. Don't laugh. Staying relevant is not a forgone conclusion when you drop to #5 in the U.S. with less than 10% market share.

At this point, Jim Press, or his new boss Sergio Marchionne, are still in the early stages of figuring out what next for Chrysler. Long range, the goal is developing a presence in the small car market. Near term, it's all about stabilizing the business. Clearing out excess dealers while making sure American car buyers know the company isn't going away will be the focus this summer. In many ways, this is the toughest part of keeping Chrysler alive.

Yes, cutting thousands of workers, closing plants, and telling loyal members of the Chrysler family that they no longer have place in the company is incredibly painful. But if this company is going to not just survive, but thrive in the future, it must win back buyers. That will go well beyond new models and a new marketing campaign. It ultimately will come down to doing the basics well, and doing that day after day.

Can Chrysler pull this off? It depends.

If Marchionne makes the commitment this company needs in terms of resources and support, then yes. If Chrysler is just a distribution channel where the new models are inconsistent then these guys are treading water at best. As Nissan Carlos Ghosnshowed when he re-built Nissan, winning back market share requires investing billions and pumping confidence and swagger back into an organization. It ain't easy.

So what was your answer to the two questions at the top? Will you buy a Chrysler, Dodge, or Jeep next time you are in the market for a new ride?

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