Behind the Wheel with Phil Lebeau

Don't Look Now but Chrysler Coming Back

Chrysler grille

For the third time in the last four months, Chrysler outsold Toyota in the US. It's an interesting statistic that may or may not mean much given your perspective. Personally, I think it's an indication the Chrysler and its dealers are continuing to build momentum after being left for dead by the previous owners.

The critics will scoff at Chrysler outselling Toyota this summer (by the way it was by less than a thousand cars). After all, Toyota's supply has been limited (and remains somewhat constrained) because of the supply chain issues following the earthquake and tsunami in Japan earlier this year. And that's true. Even Chrysler executives will tell you that as Toyota gets its full supply of cars and the new Camry rolls into showrooms next month, Toyota sales will easily eclipse what we are seeing from Chrysler. If Toyota opens up the wallet with some richer incentives, watch out.

But before you dismiss Chrysler's sales growth, keep in mind the Chrysler line-up is much improved and bringing in buyers. Jeep in particular is on fire. Sales in August were up 58% compared with the same month last year. The Grand Cherokee (up 77%) and Wrangler (up 69%) are doing very well, despite higher gas prices. Meanwhile the Chrysler (up 25%) and Dodge (up 18%) brands are posting impressive gains.

So how much of this momentum at Chrysler sustainable?

I think quite a bit.

Chrysler under CEO Sergio Marchionne has moved from triage to stability to starting to win back customers. A year ago, the core Chrysler loyalists kept the company from imploding. Now it's a case of re-freshed and new models winning over buyers. And what we see with the Grand Cherokee is proof Chrysler designers can roll-out looks buyers want.

I know, the company still skews heavily towards trucks and SUV's while gas prices are high and show little sign of coming down. Still, I like what I'm seeing from Chrysler both in terms of styling and in terms of marketing.

Here's a run down of the August sales from the major automakers.

  • Chrysler: +30.6%
  • Nissan +19%
  • GM +18.2%
  • Hyundai +13%
  • Ford +11%
  • Toyota -12.7%
  • Honda -24%

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