As GM Celebrates Rebirth, Chrysler Stays Silent

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A Chrysler Jeep drives past a dealership in Los Angeles. i i

A Chrysler Jeep drives past a dealership in Los Angeles last year. The company, now part of Fiat, is trying to compete with other automakers that have deper pockets and more new cars to sell. Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images
A Chrysler Jeep drives past a dealership in Los Angeles.

A Chrysler Jeep drives past a dealership in Los Angeles last year. The company, now part of Fiat, is trying to compete with other automakers that have deper pockets and more new cars to sell.

Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

Much is being made of the success of last year's federal bailout of General Motors, but automaker Chrysler is keeping a much lower profile — mainly because the company doesn't yet have a lot to brag about.

The Jeep Wrangler assembly line at a Chrysler plant in Toledo, Ohio, was temporarily halted earlier this week for a rally featuring that famous son of a Delaware auto dealer, Vice President Biden. He and President Obama have been stopping by many GM and Chrysler factories recently. With national unemployment rates still high, the success of the federal bailout of GM and Chrysler has become a major White House talking point.

"The doomsayers were wrong; GM is now profitable again; and Chrysler, managed by Fiat, is making progress," Biden said during the visit.

GM certainly shows signs of recovering: It's making money and has begun the process of getting the government out of the car business with a stock sale later this year. But it appears Chrysler is still struggling, losing about $370 million so far this year.

Still, for Jeep assembly line worker Ricky Allen, success is relative. He still has a job. This time last year, he wasn't sure he would.

"We've seen a lot of new faces coming in. More people getting hired in that were temporary. Part-time jobs that are becoming full-time jobs, and a lot of new faces," Allen says. "So, morale's going up quite a bit."

Allen helps assemble the new Jeep Wrangler, which auto insiders call a "refreshed" vehicle rather than a redesign. The new Wrangler will look the same on the outside, but it will have some new body colors and a better interior.

Meanwhile, both GM and Ford launched a number of new vehicles this year: think the Explorer, Focus, Fiesta for Ford; for GM, the Equinox, Cruze and Volt.

Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne. i i

Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne is focusing on two things: saving the company and keeping quiet until there's something good to say. Bill Pugliano/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Bill Pugliano/Getty Images
Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne.

Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne is focusing on two things: saving the company and keeping quiet until there's something good to say.

Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

Many of Chrysler's new vehicles won't show up until next year, and that delay could spell trouble in an industry where the competition has picked up.

"It's [Chrysler] struggling for product, and it's unlikely it can begin a real turnaround until it gets the pipeline filled again," says Paul Eisenstein, publisher of the website DetroitBureau.com.

Eisenstein says no one should write Chrysler off, but like many he is concerned. The company has to get those new vehicles into the market fast, and they have to be more reliable than in the past.

Chrysler executives from CEO Sergio Marchionne on down are focusing on two things: saving the company and keeping quiet until there's something good to say.

"I think that's going to change," says Rick Deneau, head of product and brand communications for Chrysler. "But now we've got all this great product that's right around the corner that we get to talk about, so we're very excited that that time is just about here."

The new product will include the Fiat 500, marking the first time a Fiat car has been offered in the U.S. since 1984. But customer loyalty will take the company only so far. Demand remains weak for many of Chrysler's aging products like the Chrysler 300, Jeep Caliber and Dodge Dakota.

For his part, Allen, the Jeep assembly line worker, hopes sales of the new Wrangler take off; a lot depends on it.

"Ever since I started here — I worked here 25 years — you always got to fear for your job," he said. "It's still a possibility. [If] people don't buy our products, we don't work."

Chrysler owes the U.S. Treasury about $7 billion, and it could take until 2014 to pay off the loan. The federal government isn't expected to start shedding its 10 percent stake in Chrysler in a stock offering until next year, at the earliest. For now, that appears to leave General Motors as the poster child for the wisdom of bailing out two domestic auto companies.

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