Walking into his new office, shortly after Chrysler emerged from bankruptcy two years ago, was “like walking onto the Titanic,” recalls Pietro Gorlier. Though the automaker had survived its financial collapse, Chrysler’s parts and service division had been so badly stripped down, “We barely had the bodies to answer the phone.”
Things have changed in a hurry at Mopar, says Gorlier, who now heads the combined sales and service operations for Chrysler and its Italian partner, Fiat. If anything, the subsidiary is rapidly rebuilding its global presence, entering new markets, adding new parts, offering new services – and, for the first time in its more than seven-decade history, planting a Mopar badge on the back of a Chrysler product.
The first of these was the 2010 Dodge Challenger Mopar ‘10, a limited edition of the Dodge muscle car outfitted with unique stripes, black 20-inch wheels, black grille, a functional hood scoop, upgraded Super Track Pac suspension and hood pins. A second Mopar model, the Dodge Charger Mopar ’11 was recently introduced. As with the Mopar ’10, demand has well exceeded expectations and 1,500 will be built, a 50% bump from the originally-planned 1,000.
Yet another Mopar-badged performance car, likely to be dubbed the Mopar ’12, is under development for next year, Gorlier promises, though he’s keeping details under wraps for the time being. And the range of offerings could grow even larger in the years ahead, he hints.
“It’s a commitment to the customer,” says Gorlier.
At its most basic, Mopar provides the parts and serves as the umbrella brand for service provided by the Chrysler dealer network. But it has the potential to do more than that, suggests the Italian executive, who moved to suburban Detroit following the Chrysler bankruptcy, as Fiat took control of the American maker.
Mopar, Gorlier believes, can help the maker “get in touch with (car buyers) who have never considered a Chrysler, Dodge, Ram or Jeep product.”
The subsidiary is now operating more than 130 countries, with centers in Dubai and Shanghai about to come online. In the U.S., it services 2,300 dealers. All told, the Mopar catalog lists 280,000 parts, including 200,000 “active” parts that can be readily obtained.
A good number of those are aimed at the performance car enthusiast. Indeed, Mopar was a familiar brand name in the era of the muscle car. But it targets far more than enthusiasts, Gorlier stresses.
In fact, much of the growth opportunity for the brand comes on the service side, he explains during lunch with TheDetroitBureau.com, offering a way to increase corporate and dealer revenues – and customer loyalty, as well.
“There is a strict correlation between (loyalty) and the quality of service you provide,” he asserts.
Following the tie-up with Fiat, the two makers have effectively merged their parts and service operations. That allows them to improve their economies of scale and develop better, shared operating procedures. That doesn’t mean that the parts and service experience will be the same at a Chrysler or Lancia dealership, however, or Jeep and Maserati. The goal is to customize things to match customer expectations.
But one thing that is in common across the board is the push to make it easier for customers to get service. In years past, barely 64% of Mopar service shops in the U.S. were open on Saturday, and virtually none of them offered a Quick Service lane to rival the fast-lube competition.
Today, that is up to 75% open on Saturday, with 25% offering Quick Service facilities. The goal is to bring both up to 80%, promises Gorlier. Mopar has even added a Quick Service facility in Saudi Arabia.
Meanwhile, Mopar is pressing its dealers to expand their ability to service Toyotas, Fords and other competing vehicles. The push to increase hours and services is paying off with a significant improvement in customer profitability. And that, in turn, helps keep retailers more loyal to the Chrysler brand.
Mopar will celebrate its 75th anniversary next year and it’s no longer looking like the Titanic after the iceberg. Significantly, “We have expanded beyond muscle during the last two years,” says Gorlier. That means the parts line-up has been expanded to included comfort and safety options, as well as high-tech infotainment systems.
At last year’s SEMA show, the after-market extravaganza, in Las Vegas, Mopar unveiled a variety of performance concept vehicles and an array of new accessories. But might a future Mopar-badged product be aimed at somebody other than a performance enthusiast?
Gorlier isn’t making any commitments, but he notes that Chrysler’s minivans are still among its most popular products, “And a soccer mom isn’t interested in tuning the engine.” She might instead be looking to “monitor what her kid is driving,” and if there’s a part of service available to do that, says Gorlier, Mopar intends to offer it.