Chrysler Corp. built up momentum in 1996 with record sales and pretax profits. That momentum faded this year, with a strike in the spring, and sluggish US minivan and sport-utility sales in the autumn. Chrysler Chairman Robert Eaton said it is only a temporary setback. He was interviewed by Automotive News Staff Reporter Ralph Kisiel and News Editor Charles Child on 30 October at the company's headquarters in Auburn Hills, USA
Are there any plans for a Europe-only car?
No. We're looking at European versions of our current passenger cars that would be somewhat unique, but they would be off the same platforms.
There is so much more competition in sport-utilities and minivans, and those are the crown jewels at Chrysler. Does that worry you?
The third-largest franchise in the USA on a volume basis (Dodge) didn't have a sport-utility at all. It's now going to have one. So I think we're going to regain that penetration that we've lost.
There isn't any doubt there's going to be more competition in that area.
There will be more competition in minivans as well. But there are also more people moving in that direction.
That's still where the growth is at. That's still where the capacity utilization is the best - there's less excess capacity in that area than any other.
I don't think you should believe that the market is going to stay where it is either. What you now think of as sport-utilities and what you now think of as minivans - I think you can see lots of signals out there that say the market is going to go in a bunch of different directions.
Do autos contribute to global warming in any way? Should Chrysler be worried about that?
I am not saying that global warming is not a fact. At this point, it is uncertain. If it is a fact, yes, the burning of all fuels is a factor and through both our manufacturing plants and our products we are contributing.
The big question is: Is the one degree in temperature change in the last 100 years a normal variation that's been happening over centuries? Is that all part of the normal variation, or is it in fact a trend that's been affected by man?
That's the part that's not clear yet. If man has caused that one-degree rise, we've got to do something.
Since we don't know if it's true or not, let's not sit here and do nothing.
Let's start a very substantial public-private r&d partnership on how to get more efficiency in fuel usage in all areas of fuel use. So that if in fact by the time we determine whether this is normal variability or not, we'll at least have some technology to apply.
Toyota seemed to get a jump on everyone with the Prius hybrid vehicle.
I don't think that's true at all. Toyota doesn't have any technology that we don't have, that Ford doesn't have, that BMW doesn't have.
They simply decided to eat $20,000 a vehicle.
That's not the kind of trade off I want to make for my shareholders. I'm working just as hard on the technology as they are.
They acknowledged that it cost them $20,000 more than what they are selling it for. Obviously it's an image gain.
You could argue we have done some of that with things like Prowler and Viper. We don't do those to make big money.
Does Chrysler still want to do business in China?
We've been doing business there now for 14-plus years with Beijing Jeep and we expect to be doing business there for an awful lot longer. And we hope to grow in China over time in a very significant way.
Did the visit by Chinese President Jiang Zemin to the USA accomplish anything?
I think it's a very good thing. I think that the most populous nation in the world and the (USA) ought to have a much better relationship than we have had. I think that we have far more things in interest than we have in conflict.
They are slowly opening up their country. So I think it's very important that we improve our relationship and develop a very good trading relationship. I think this was just another step along the path of building a much stronger, long-term relationship.
The new Concorde and Intrepid look like different vehicles. Will the new Chrysler LHS and 300M be differentiated as well?
The 300M will be even more dramatically differentiated than those are. That's as far as I'll go. You'll be able to see those at the Detroit auto show.
Has Chrysler lost some momentum this year?
There's no question that up until now we really haven't had any new product this year. We also had the strike earlier in the year that disrupted momentum. So it's a lull at best and we've had a lot of competitors out there with a lot of new product. There's no doubt we have lost some share this year.