Chrysler Canada is the second-highest seller of vehicles in its country, a position gained by 18 months of sales growth. As models in its product line set sales records, there seems no stopping this automotive manufacturing powerhouse. Trying to stop it is like trying to forestall gravity. Dan Harvey reports on this onrushing force of nature.
To paraphrase Shakespeare, Chrysler Canada Inc. is as full of spirit as the month of May.
In May 2011, this wholly owned subsidiary of Chrysler Group LLC realized sales increases of 17 percent over the same period in 2010. “The increase represents 18 months of sales growth,” says President and Chief Executive Officer Reid Bigland, underscoring the robustness by describing the company’s consistency.
That’s the kind of stability that Joe DiMaggio demonstrated in his famous 56-game hitting streak (which began in May 1941, by the way). The increase Bigland speaks of includes a lusty 24,406 total sales for the month – which translates into a “Hall of Fame”-level batting average. Chrysler Canada’s vigorous accomplishments positioned it as the second-highest seller of vehicles in its country, just behind Ford of Canada.
Downturn in the economy? Auto industry woes? One’s tempted to say the Chrysler Canada has been unaffected. Only partially true, says Bigland. “Chrysler did see a small dip in Canada, but it was nowhere near what took place in the US market,” he says. “In recent months, we’ve been enjoying steady growth.”
That growth has to do with a global strategic alliance that the Chrysler Group forged with Fiat in 2009, a relationship that changed a longstanding situation: “Fiat hasn’t been present in North America for 27 years,” reminds Bigland.
Thanks to the collaboration, Chrysler now can offer 16 new vehicles in 2011 that boast new levels of efficiency. For instance, each demonstrates greater than 35 miles per gallon (better than Toyota, Honda and Ford).
Here’s how the relationship works: Chrysler’s characteristic innovative culture is complemented by Fiat’s technology – e.g., platforms and powertrains for small- and medium-sized cars. This allows the Chrysler Group to offer an expanded product line that includes environmentally friendly vehicles. “As a result, we now have Canada’s ‘youngest’ showroom, which features a full line of new or significantly ‘refreshed’ vehicles,” says Bigland.
Further, Chrysler Canada has become the fastest growing auto manufacturer in Canada, and it is driving that nation’s small-car growth. Also, the product line includes some of the world’s most recognizable vehicles – like the Dodge Grand Caravan, the Dodge Ram Truck, the Jeep Wrangler and the Chrysler 300. “Two of the top-three selling vehicles in Canada – the Caravan and the Ram Truck – belong to us,” adds Bigland.
Let’s look at some specific numbers that the company reports for May 2011:
- 1,918 Canadians purchased Jeep Wranglers – a record-setting figure;
- Jeep Grand Cherokee sales nearly quadrupled in May, 2011 with 944 units sold, compared to the same period in 2010;
- Canada’s best-selling crossover – the fuel-efficient Dodge Journey set a sales record (2,182) up from 48 percent the previous year;
- Ram trucks set a May sales record, with 5,428 units sold (a 23-percent increase);
- Total car sales increased 12 percent for the month, led by the Chrysler 200 sedan (769 units).
Meanwhile, the fuel-efficient Fiat 500 – a new and affordable vehicle (it’s also stylish) – is proving popular with Canadian consumers. In May 2011, Chrysler sold 651 units.
May – a “merry month” indeed for Chrysler Canada.
TWO PRIMARY PRODUCTION FACILITIES
Canadian success arises from two main assembly plants. “One is located in Windsor, Ontario and the other resides in Brampton, Ontario,” says Bigland.
Chrysler Corporation acquired the Brampton plant in 1987 (it was built a year earlier) with the purchase of American Motors Corporation, which everyone knows as AMC. In 1992, the facility started production of the Chrysler Concorde, Dodge Intrepid and Eagle Vision models. Production of next-generation Concordes and Intrepids began in 1997. The Chrysler LHS and 300M soon followed (in 1998). By 2004, the plant manufactured rear-wheel drive vehicles when it launched the Chrysler 300 and Dodge Magnum. A year later, it launched the Dodge Charger. Dodge Magnum production was discontinued in 2007. “Today, the plant manufactures the Chrysler 300, the Dodge Charger and the Dodge Challenger,” reports Bigland.
The plant began producing the new 2011 Charger and Challenger models in 2010 and the new Chrysler 300 in 2011.
The facility – which resides on 269 acres and employs nearly 3,000 people who cover two shifts – deploys the World Class Manufacturing (WCM) system, which focuses on 10 pillars, including the environmental pillar, which incorporates the plant’s EMS (or engine management system). With WCM and EMS, the plant works toward continuous improvement. This involves “Key Performance Indicators” that monitor and evaluate elements related to reductions in waste and raw materials, energy and other measureable indicators. In part, improvements come through rigorous pollution prevention programs which include decreased gas usage, among other reductions.
The Windsor assembly plant – the older of the two facilities (it was built in 1928) – also deploys WCM and EMS. “There, we manufacture the Dodge Grand Caravan, the Chrysler Town and Country, and the Volkswagen Routan,” says Bigland.
By 1981, the plant was producing two of the company’s most historic vehicles: the Chrysler Cordoba and Dodge Charger SE. Two years later, it began producing minivans. By August 2010, Chrysler sold its 13-millionth minivan. “For more than 27 years, we’ve been number-one in minivan sales,” says Bigland, adding that Routan production began in 2008.
Overall, Chrysler Canada’s production increased 51 percent in 2010 over 2009, he reports: “The Windsor plant rose 62 percent, and we built 312,125 vehicles. At Brampton, we rose 34 percent over 2009, and we built 163,257 vehicles.”
He adds another considerable figure: “The plants now contribute 30 percent of the total Chrysler Group production.”
In addition to the headquarters – and the two main assembly plants and a casting plant in Etobicoke – the organization has business centers located throughout Canada, including more than 400 dealers.
Chrysler vehicles incorporate the latest technological advances. As far as engine technology, the Ram line includes the only diesel-powered heavy-duty pickup trucks that meet stringent, Canadian emissions standards. Drivers aren’t bothered with problems related to the diesel exhaust fluid system that other heavy duty pickups deploy. As such, Rams offer buyers the best emissions treatment solution to meet their needs. “Also, our new minivans feature the 3.6 liter Penastar V6 engine, one of the most technologically advanced on the market,” says Bigland.
When it comes to performance, Chrysler offers active transfer case and front-axle disconnect. The unique system offers easy transition between real-wheel drive and all-wheel drive without driver intervention, according to the company. This is a main selling point for the Chrysler 300 and the Dodge Charger.
Smooth ride is provided by the innovative multi-link spring rear suspension, which carries Chrysler vehicles down the road much more effortlessly than similar competitor models. And it comes with no capability compromise: By replacing heavy, friction-prone leaf springs with multi-coil spring suspension, Chrysler reduces friction and weight without reducing cargo capacity.
Chrysler also addresses modern consumer infatuation for entertainment/communication technology, bundling these beneath the uconnect ™ umbrella. Think Bluetooth™ technology and iPod® interface.
To borrow an old phrase applied to auto racing, Chrysler Canada moves ahead at a “pace that thrills.”
As Bigland indicates, in 2010, Chrysler Canada gained a market share larger than any other national auto manufacturer. “We gained two percentage points last year, more than any other manufacturer in Canada and in the first quarter of 2011, we already gained one full percentage point.”
This leads to the obvious question: When will Chrysler Canada assume the number-one position? The organization is loath to boast – and it doesn’t like to talk about future plans – but this seems well within the realm of possibility.
By next May?