Reporting Jeff Gilbert
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DETROIT — (WWJ) Some of the most iconic images of Detroit presented nationally have come from ads Chrysler created in the last two Super Bowls, with the Eminem “Imported from Detroit” message and Clint Eastwood’s “Halftime in America.”
But don’t count on it this year.
As the North American International Auto Show brings large crowds to downtown Detroit, Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne said he would like to see a vibrant downtown all the time. But the company isn’t necessarily going to point the camera on Detroit again for a Super Bowl ad.
In a one-on-one interview, Marchionne told WWJ AutoBeat Reporter Jeff Gilbert that the two floors Chrysler has leased in a downtown office building won’t make a major impact on their own, but they can make a statement to others about the need to have a presence in the struggling city.
Interview: Sergio Marchionne talks about cars, Washington, Detroit and Super Bowl ads (among other things)
“I sincerely hope it gets taken as an indication of the commitment that others can make to the city. I need other people down there, it’s not just us,” he said. “Chrysler, it’s an interesting presence, but I would like to see others.”
He’s told suppliers about the benefits of being downtown. And even after his time heading the United Way Torch Drive ends, Marchionne says he will find some way to be involved in the city, saying everyone in a position of leadership needs to do what they can to “bring back” Detroit.
“The signal that we’re sending out is the right signal,” he said. “But everybody needs to roll up their sleeves and come down. We need to be there.”
In the famous “Imported from Detroit” ad during the 2011 Super Bowl, Chrysler tied itself to the city. An ad featuring Clint Eastwood last year created a political controversy.
What’s on tap for 2013?
“I don’t know if we’ll be in the Super Bowl, that’s the first thing, at least not the way we have been in the past,” he said, adding the Clint Eastwood commercial was finished the Monday before it played. “If you had asked me the weekend before the Super Bowl if we had something to show, the answer would have been ‘no.’”
To have a Super Bowl ad, Marchionne says things would have to come together just right. He’s also not sure if they can sustain the impact.
“For Chrysler to keep on repeating commercials that ultimately have that level of significance, you’re already pushing your luck,” he said.
But, speaking Thursday at the Automotive News World Congress, Chrysler’s top sales executive, Ried Bigland, indicated they have something up their sleeve.
We’ve been fortunate with the Eminim, with the Clint Eastwood, they’ve seem to cut through. It is going to be tough to keep that going. I think this year, I don’t know if we’re going to be able to rekindle that type of magic, but we’ll give it a try. You’ll see an ad from Chrysler Group.”
Most of Chrysler’s attention is on a second phase of new product introductions that begins with the Jeep Grand Cherokee, unveiled at the North American International Auto Show. It will be followed by the as yet un-named (at least publicly) replacement for the Jeep Liberty, and a Fiat based overhaul of the Chrysler 200 mid-size sedan.
There are other vehicles that have been shown to dealers, but have not been discussed publicly.
“There’s a whole lot of stuff coming at the speed of light,” Marchionne said. “It makes it a lot easier to do these product launches … With the success we’ve had the last three-and-a-half years … These are good signs. There’s a good basis, as you say, on which we can start the next phase of the comeback of Chrysler.”
Car and truck sales should continue to rise in the coming year, says Marchionne, and new products should help Chrysler increase their market share.
As he deals with a recession in Europe, Marchionne also keeps a close eye on negotiations in the U.S. over the nation’s debt. “If the absolute worst doesn’t happen, then I think I’m fine,” he said.
He said the situation in Italy is unfortunate, as politicians get ready for an election cycle, and, he added, “This show in Washington is serious,” he said. “It needs a resolution; otherwise the consequences could be disastrous.”
But, he does believe that, as happened before, there will be a last-minute agreement.
“It’ll be messy, between here and then, but we’ll get there,” he said.
Marchionne says Chrysler has hired 9,000 since emerging from bankruptcy, 19,000 including people brought back from layoffs. “This is how bankruptcy is supposed to work, textbook solutions, you go in, you clean yourself up, you keep on moving, right?” he said, adding his company will hire more people in the coming year, but he wouldn’t give a number. He said they are looking for more capacity, but not looking to build any new factories.
The next step for Marchionne personally is to quit smoking.
“It’s gonna happen,” he said. “I’m in the process of winding myself off the stuff.”