Source AP ©

Chrysler's new head of sales and marketing plans to reach more customers

Chrysler LLC will trim some models as it wants to draw more customers.

Jim Press, who became Chrysler's president and vice chairman two weeks ago after a 37-year career at Toyota, said Chrysler is committed to offering hybrids and other fuel-saving technology. He also said Chrysler can win more U.S. market share if it does a better job communicating. The company's U.S. market share has hovered around 14 percent for almost 20 years.

"The cars have intrinsic appeal, and I don't think we've effectively created that awareness or understanding among people. I don't think we're getting the consideration we should," Press told The Associated Press in an interview. "The company in many ways has let other people define us. We should define us ourselves."

Press would not elaborate on which models should be eliminated, saying he's still studying the issue, but Chrysler is heavily tilted toward sport utility vehicles. Jeep and Dodge have four similarly priced mid-size SUVs, for example, but the company has only one compact car to capture young buyers, the Dodge Caliber.

By contrast, Toyota Motor Corp. has an entire brand devoted to young buyers, Scion, as well as three small cars and the Prius hybrid under the Toyota badge.

"There seems to be a little too much overlap in some of the models and not enough expansion," Press said.

Press said Chrysler has been in turmoil, reacting with short-term fixes, and it needs to develop a long-term, customer-driven strategy. The automaker recently split from DaimlerChrysler AG after a nine-year marriage that often gave Chrysler short shrift.

"There's a unique opportunity to stop doing the wrong things, focus on doing the right things and build a really solid organization that can show the world that, yes, a U.S. automaker can compete with any of the global players effectively," Press said.

Press's hiring was a coup for Chrysler, which has been in private hands since August, when DaimlerChrysler completed the sale of a controlling stake in Chrysler to the private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management LP. Cerberus named Robert Nardelli, Home Depot Inc.'s former chairman, as Chrysler's chairman.

Press said Cerberus is providing Chrysler with access to the best corporate minds and "a ton of money" for the development of advanced technology, including gas-electric hybrids, diesels and all-electric vehicles. Chrysler is debuting a new hybrid system next year on the Chrysler Aspen and Dodge Durango SUVs.

"The company that will do the best will be the one who can give the customers the products they want without intrinsic sacrifices," Press said. "It's not how small of a vehicle you can force people into, but how can you give them the right size vehicle that satisfies their needs that's also responsible?"

Press said Cerberus is committed to the long-term rebuilding of the automaker and has put in place a small, nimble team that can make decisions quickly. Press said it used to take months or even years of protracted discussions to make decisions at Toyota.

Press said he will be making adjustments to the products already in Chrysler's pipeline to improve their appeal and value as well as making strategic product decisions for the future. He said Chrysler can win more U.S. market share by taking the emotional appeal of a brand like Jeep and applying it to its higher-volume vehicles. He also said the company has tremendous growth opportunity overseas, where it has almost no presence.

"I really don't bring anything from Toyota. There's no secret books," he said. "The basics of the car business don't change. You have to have really good products people want. You've got to build upon those products a great brand image and reputation, and you have to have really good dealers."

When Press left Toyota, he was the Japanese automaker's top North American executive as well as the first non-Japanese member of the company's board. Press said the decision to leave Toyota was "agonizing."

"The reality is I was sort of in the sunset of my career there, and here I can be in the sunrise of my career. Few people ever have the chance to do that," said Press, 60.

"I told Dr. (Shoichiro) Toyoda, and I meant it, that I wish I'd never heard of Cerberus or Chrysler because it would have made my life so much easier, but once I heard about it, it was an irresistible force. It was a great challenge and a great opportunity and I couldn't say no."