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Chrysler Project Genesis: Fresh Start or Doomsday for Dealers

Call me a Baby Boomer Star Trek geek, but it has struck me for a while now that the Chrysler program to remake its dealerships, Project Genesis, has the same name as the sci-fi Project Genesis device in one of the Star Trek movies.

What they have in common is a nice-sounding name, but it's not nice to be on the receiving end.

Chrysler's Project Genesis seeks to combine all of its franchises, in light of falling sales volumes for each of its brands: Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep.

Oversimplifying some, the Chrysler brand itself is best known for the Chrysler 300 car and the Town & Country minivan; Dodge for the Ram pickup and the Caravan minivan; and Jeep for SUVs like the Wrangler and the Grand Cherokee. All three Chrysler brands also offer crossovers.

Chrysler's contention is that a combined Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep facility, in the most desirable location, with a wide variety of products, has a better chance of success. The alternative is a facility with a narrow product offering, potentially not in the best location.

All that is sound logic, but in the normal times there would be more of a voluntary aspect to the plan, from a dealer's point of view. All of the car companies are normally restrained by franchise laws from ordering dealers around with the threat of termination. With Chrysler in bankruptcy, the times are not normal.

As Chrysler uses the term, Project Genesis connotes a fresh start. The company cites Project Genesis as part of its rationale for seeking to terminate close to 800 dealerships, part of its reorganization plan submitted in U.S. Bankruptcy Court.

Meanwhile, Star Trek's fictional Project Genesis also represents a fresh start. It can turn a barren, lifeless moon into a lush, green, Earth-like environment, ready for colonizing. The trouble is, if the fictional device is triggered on a planet that's already inhabited, it sets off a high-tech tidal wave that destroys all life as it exists today, and remakes the planet as lush, green -- and uninhabited.

Some of the dealers Chrysler is attempting to terminate are probably feeling like they're also being overrun. Some Chrysler dealers have filed objections in U.S. Bankruptcy Court to their termination, complaining specifically about Project Genesis. (A couple of the complaints have some verbal flair, but I haven't seen any references to Star Trek.)

For instance, Regal Jeep, Lakeland Fla., filed an objection on May 25 calling Chrysler's decision to terminate it "alchemy," since Chrysler's May 14 announcement contains no backup facts or analysis. According to the complaint, the dealership has been profitable ever since it opened in 1982, which argues against it being terminated.

Meanwhile, the same owner also has a Pontiac dealership, and General Motors has said it is dropping the Pontiac franchise. There's a challenge worthy of a combined Captain Kirk and Denny Crane.

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