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No stone unturned for Jeep Australia

Boosted: The SRT8 Grand Cherokee is already selling fast – emblematic of Jeep Australia’s sales growth overall this year.

Chrysler Jeep Australia no longer an ugly duckling, says managing director

Chrysler logo5 Oct 2012

REVERSING the fortunes of a flagging Chrysler Jeep Australia required not just a wave of new product, but also the reversal of a business culture that lost the support of staff and dealers alike, according to managing director Clyde Campbell.

Mr Campbell, who took over the reins exactly two years ago, said getting the “the people side of the business” sorted was priority number one and was at least partially responsible for both brands’ improved sales in 2012.

“Immediately prior to me joining, it was probably as bad as it got for the brands in Australia,” he said.

“We sold about 8800 cars in the 12 months prior. In the 12 months just gone, we’ve sold a bit over 18,500, so it’s a good time to be here.”

Jeep is the fastest-growing mainstream brand in Australia this year, up 117.1 per cent thanks largely to the new-generation Grand Cherokee, while in September the company achieved record-breaking sales for both the current Cherokee and the Compass.

The recent introduction of the new Chrysler 300 also resulted in a massive 708.7 per cent September sales spike for that brand.

 center imageFrom top: Fiat Chrysler Group's Clyde Campbell Chrysler 300 Fiat Punto.

Such is the popularity of the Grand Cherokee, diesel-powered variants now have waiting lists of several months, while the hot SRT8 variant launched this week is sold out until 2013 and Jeep Australia has its hands up for a massive 25 per cent of global supply from next year.

This growth comes despite the company selling fewer nameplates than it did two years ago – having axed several Dodge and Chrysler model lines – while Mr Campbell pointed out that profitability has also improved, “so it’s not a price-slashing exercise”.

“If you’re not pumped and you’re working in a car company that is getting the results we are, you never will be,” he said. “So the two go hand-in-hand, but we very much had to build the right culture.”

It has been a busy year for the company, which relocated to shiny new Port Melbourne headquarters – including a 10,000 square metre parts warehouse – in March and acquired the local distribution rights to global parent Fiat/Alfa Romeo in May.

“When I started two years ago, I was given the result of an employee engagement survey that talked about whether people were going to speak positively about the company, strive to do better, and planned to stay,” said Mr Campbell.

“It was supplied by Mercer, and they say the benchmark you want to be at is about a 66 per cent level of engagement – that’s where a typically performing company will operate – and if you can get above 75 per cent you’re in the high performers category.

“So when we came in at 41 per cent it was pretty alarming, and it told us our people didn’t talk positively about the company, they didn’t intend to stay and they were pretty much working to the clock – at 5 o’clock they were in traffic on the way home.

“We said, ‘OK, before we do anything with the business we need to do something with the people’, and I think it’s a real testament if you go through here at the moment that we have a workforce that is pretty geed-up.”

Mr Campbell said this was a reason why he thought the company would do well with the Fiat and Alfa brands, particularly once it is free to import more model lines and variants after February 1 next year (a stipulation of its acquisition from previous importer Ateco).

As we have reported, next year’s Fiat/Alfa product roll-out will include the return of the Punto small car, a broader range of 500 light cars, the addition of the Freemont MPV and price cuts for the Alfa Romeo Giulietta to make it more of a rival for the Volkswagen Golf, among others.

“We have a team ethos embedded into the business now that flows not just through us, but also the dealer network.

“Look at a supermarket, it doesn’t make money from groceries, it makes money from shelf space. They hope the grocery sales cover the costs. In our business, we had the worst shelf space that the dealers had to offer, because they weren’t engaged with what we were offering them.

“But once they saw we were pretty united and pretty dedicated with what we were going to do, we started getting more than the cadet salespeople, more than the worst sales facility they had, and more than the dribs and drabs of advertising budgets they had left over.”

The result is an impression of a company on the up and, according to Mr Campbell, an organisation that is a source of pride – rather than embarrassment – for those involved.

“Two years ago, when I went to a barbecue the night before I started, people looked to me and said ‘Why are you doing this, you’re crazy’.

“And certainly the staff here owned up to feeling a little bit sheepish, might even resort to saying they were in banking instead of saying they worked for Chrysler. But today it’s a badge of pride.”

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