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Chrysler's boss shows his metal at car rally
Nardelli is busy getting to know staff, organization
August 17, 2007

BY TIM HIGGINS

FREE PRESS BUSINESS WRITER

Bob Nardelli, chairman and CEO of the new Chrysler LLC, made his first public appearance Thursday since taking charge, and he made it a good one.

The former GE executive and Home Depot chief drove his black-and-silver Prowler onto the company's museum parking lot in Auburn Hills, a little self-conscious that his is a simple stock version of the eye-catching coupe. There he rallied with fellow Prowler owners.

He said he is learning as fast as he can about his new company, said lower interest rates would help Chrysler sell more cars and generally proclaimed his love for the annual tribute to Detroit steel known as the Woodward Dream Cruise.
"If anybody asks whether or not you're a car guy, you tell them you were a Prowler guy long before you got the job," Chrysler employee Tom Staniszewski, 47, of Warren told Nardelli after he and James Finck, 52, of Clarkston gave him an orange Hawaiian shirt commemorating the 10th anniversary of the Prowler, which was built between 1997 and 2002.

Both men helped design the roadster.

"Yes, I was," Nardelli responded. He immediately put the bright shirt on over the white, starched, button-down shirt he was wearing along with his black pin-stripe suit pants. He also wore a small golden pin that read: "Prowler Owners. East Coast Posse."

Asked how many miles he's driven, he said: "Let's check."

"I hope you drive it instead of park it," a woman said as he hopped in the car.

"Eleven-thirty-one."

"Good for you," she responded as he revved the car's engine.

So goes Nardelli's introduction to the car business and his first week at the headquarters, where he's been busy meeting employees in the cafeteria and throughout the organization.

Nardelli, who was named CEO on Aug. 6, didn't even have time to drive his Prowler from his home in Atlanta. Chrysler had a truck pick up the car even before Nardelli's wife has moved to town.

Nardelli said he'd already made a trip to the design center and looked at upcoming vehicles and visited with folks in the human resources and public relations departments.

"Phase one, I've got a full schedule over the next couple of weeks," Nardelli said.

"I will be visiting plants, visiting dealerships, visiting suppliers. I think it's incumbent upon me as the new guy to kind of be a dry sponge and absorb everything I can."

Nardelli said he believes a reduction in the rates by the Federal Reserve would spur consumer spending in the auto sector. "Sooner would be better than later," he said.

"Certainly I would say that it would be appropriate to be looking at that to get some confidence -- consumer confidence -- back, some energy back into the markets."

Nardelli drove to the rally in his 2001 Prowler, which he purchased from a dealer in Albany, N.Y., in 2000. He got out of the two-seater and immediately began wandering around rows of brightly colored cars, shaking hands with Prowler owners and Chrysler employees.

More than 350 of the 11,500 Prowlers made were expected Thursday night at the museum, which hosts various "cruise nights" throughout the summer.

Before Nardelli left, at least one person asked for his autograph.

Nardelli said the Dream Cruise has "really been the fun part of the job," noting that he'd spent the last few nights driving Woodward Avenue watching as things are set up for the official Saturday event.

"I love cars," Nardelli said. "I am a little embarrassed with my stock Prowler here compared to all of the work these folks have done."

He talked with reporters for about 15 minutes before he was off in his Prowler for a quick trip to Birmingham and dinner with Chrysler's dealer council.

Last week he met briefly with Frank Klegon, Chrysler executive vice president of product development, who reports to Nardelli. "I think Bob will be very active," Klegon said.

"He's a car enthusiast. The first thing he was chatting about when we got together at first, he was telling me about the Prowler that he owns," Klegon said, recalling that Nardelli asked when Chrysler would be ready to sell a vehicle with 800 horsepower.

"Bob, I can give you a 600-horsepower Viper, but I don't have anything in an 800-horsepower yet," Klegon responded.

Nardelli said Cerberus has ensured that Chrysler has all its financing in order.

"Our job now," he said, "is to have flawless execution, to really focus on the fundamentals of the recovery and transformation plan, to spend a lot of time on the various work modules with the various members of the leadership team looking at revenues."

LINK: http://www.freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070817/BUSINESS01/708170384
 
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