- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 26, 2009

It’s no way to run a railroad, area auto dealers say - produce cars that consistently ride in the rear of Consumer Reports’ annual rankings, and then blame the dealers when they don’t sell.

“Some jerk in Detroit who has ruined his company is going to say I’m an underperforming dealer?” said Jack Fitzgerald, owner of 13 dealerships in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Florida. “I’ve done nothing but grow every year for 43 years.”

Three of his Maryland dealerships will lose their Chrysler franchises by June 9.

Rick Shaub, owner of Montrose Dodge in Germantown, said Chrysler LLC has been behind the curve for years. He owns a single dealership and is losing his franchise.

“They don’t make cars people want. As far as I’m concerned, they’re five years behind everybody else in quality, styling and everything else,” he said. “If people don’t want it, it doesn’t matter who sells it.”

Peter Kitzmiller, president of the Maryland Automobile Dealers Association, said the story is similar at General Motors Corp.

“I don’t know a GM dealer in the country that has performed all that well, and it certainly has nothing to do with the dealer,” he said. “The difference is the product.”

Mr. Fitzgerald said he has been pressing the automakers to improve their consumer ratings for 20 years, and has letters from former GM Chief Executive Officer Rick Wagoner and former DaimlerChrysler CEO Dieter Zetsche to prove it.

“We’re putting a lot of effort into increasing the reliability and quality of our vehicles, which we’re expecting will result in … even more favorable ratings from Consumer Reports,” Mr. Zetsche wrote in a 2001 letter to Mr. Fitzgerald.

In the magazine’s April issue, which includes rankings of 2009 models, Chrysler was the lowest-rated automaker. GM was second lowest.

Chrysler defended the quality of its cars Friday in response to an inquiry from The Washington Times. Spokeswoman Carrie McElwee said the new Dodge Ram trucks and Jeep Wrangler sport utility vehicles are getting “great reviews.”

“We do understand that Consumer Reports uses a three-year window of vehicles in order to judge reliability, so it will take time to see the results of the changes that we are putting in place to address reliability and quality concerns of our customers,” Chrysler said.

“Chrysler has a lot of practice explaining its poor ratings,” Mr. Fitzgerald said.

A GM spokeswoman did not immediately respond to an inquiry about its reliability ratings.

Chrysler announced plans May 14 through the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in New York to terminate agreements with 789 dealerships, including 13 in the Washington area.

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