Chrysler's Decline: Will It Fall Behind Nissan?

Talk about a tough week. On Monday Chrysler announced it would be shutting an assembly plant outside St. Louis and stripping out the shift of another one in Missouri. Then yesterday, the company reported June sales that put the company's market share for the month at 9.9%.

Instead of asking if "That thing got a HEMI?", people are starting to ask, "Do these guys have a plan to turn around this company?"

Oh I know that Chrysler execs will tell me that the company is hitting all of its financial targets and that it's adjusting production to a market going through a very painful correction. Given Chrysler is now a privately held company and doesn't have to release its financial, there's no way to check their performance independently. So we are left to look at Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep sales to get a sense a where they are and where they are headed.

Right now, they're headed in reverse. High gas prices have hit Ram truck sales and the Jeep brand is fighting to stay positive in a market moving away from SUVs. And for a company that raked in big profits thanks to it's big HEMI engine, the public's push for fuel efficient 4 cylinder engines does not help the bottom line.

I have asked folks I know in the auto business, half jokingly, if Nissan might pass Chrysler? That's not likely to happen anytime soon. But then again, it wasn't long ago Chrysler had well over 12% market share and very comfortable lead over Honda. Not anymore. Honda has blown Chrysler away in the last two years, and it now the company comfortably entrenched as #4 in the U.S.

But what does the future hold for Chrysler? President Jim Press, who left Toyotafor Chrysler, says good stuff is on the way. Again, we have to take a Chrysler executive at his word since we've yet to see the kind of game changing model that makes you say, "oh man, just wait until that comes out."

This is unlike Ford, where CEO Alan Mulally has opened up the tent and shown reporters the future plans for Ford and Lincoln. Or GM, traditionally a conservative company when it comes to discussing the pipeline, where reporters have been given regular updates on upcoming models like the electric Chevy Volt. With Chrysler, the cupboard looks pretty bare.

So let's see where the summer takes this company. It sure isn't off to a good start.

Questions? Comments?