Chrysler Polishes Brand With Loan Repayments

Chrysler is going to repay about $7.5 billion in U.S. and Canadian government loans this Tuesday. With the repayment of those loans, Chrysler's image is starting to shine again. Those Eminem commercials apparently helped. NPR's Sonari Glinton reports.

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Automaker Chrysler has announced plans to pay off its debt to the federal government. Chrysler owes about seven-and-a-half billion dollars to the United States and Canada for loans during the federal bailout two years ago.

NPR's Sonari Glinton has more on the latest sign of the company's resurgence.

SONARI GLINTON: For a long time, when people talked about the American auto industry, there was General Motors, Ford and uh, uh... yeah, Chrysler. That began to change on Sunday, February 6th, 2011, Super Bowl Sunday.

(Soundbite of ad)

Unidentified Man: Now, we're from America but this isn't New York City or the Windy City or Sin City and we're certainly no one's Emerald City.

Mr. RICK WANCHELL (Analyst, AutoTrader.com): I think it's smart for Chrysler to draw upon that connection with Detroit, and using Eminem is really a brilliant way to do that.

(Soundbite of ad)

EMINEM (Artist, Actor, Producer): This is the Motor City. And this is what we do.

GLINTON: Rick Wanchell(ph) is an analyst with AutoTrader.com. He says Chrysler's brilliant marketing is really helping it to shrug off its stodgy image, even if it is with a middle-aged rapper.

Mr. WANCHELL: Eminem represents that swagger. He represents the swagger of Detroit, the underdog quality of it and rising above the troubles that that city has had.

GLINTON: Wanchell says that swagger is only good if Chrysler has cars that people want to buy once they get into the showroom.

Mr. WANCHELL: What's holding them back in a way is that they really don't have a signature vehicle that they can point to that symbolizes their resurgence.

GLINTON: General Motors has the Chevy Volt and the Cruze, Ford has the Fusion and the Focus. Those are all new, hip fuel-efficient cars that use innovative technology. While Chrysler has updated almost all their cars, they haven't created a lot of brand new vehicles.

David Champion is the head of auto testing at Consumer Reports. He says Chrysler has suffered from shifts in management and a lack of a single vision.

Mr. DAVID CHAMPION (Head of Auto Testing, Consumer Reports): Now, there is a direction that we have seen within Chrysler to produce really, really good cars.

GLINTON: Part of the direction comes from the Italian carmaker Fiat, which has an ownership stake. Champion says Chrysler is on the right track in terms of quality because years ago, when his friends and family would ask him about buying a Chrysler, he'd say...

Mr. CHAMPION: Don't even touch it with a barge pole. Nowadays you'd say, well, the new 200, yes, it's a pretty nice car. You know, there's probably better ones out there but, yes, it's a consideration.

GLINTON: In the most recent Consumer Reports issue that grades the carmakers on overall quality, Chrysler came in dead last among major automakers. Champion says that's not likely to happen again next year. And he says not being last would be a huge improvement for Chrysler.

Sonari Glinton, NPR News.

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