Detroit Three Desperate? Not 'Til They Spill Future Products

Last Updated Jul 9, 2008 10:18 PM EDT

lee_iacocca_chrysler_HQIs Chrysler truly desperate? Or GM, or Ford? Getting there, but not quite yet.

Strike One: Fire-Sale Incentives All three of the Detroit Three recently resorted to incentive programs to try and sell down stockpiles of unsold cars and trucks.

GM had a "72-Hour Sale" in late June. Ford added "You Pay What We Pay" for the Ford F-150 pickup. Chrysler sweetened and extended its "$2.99 Gas" offer. But so far, no one has touched off a price war like "Employee Prices for Everyone" in 2005, or zero-percent financing, in 2001.

Strike Two: Win One for the Gipper Chrysler recently invited Lee Iacocca in from the cold. Iacocca got airbrushed out of the picture for opposing the 1998 DaimlerChrysler merger, and when he sided with Kirk Kerkorian, when Kerkorian tried to take over Chrysler.

Take your pick, Iacocca's June 26 appearance at Chrysler headquarters was A. a heartwarming, overdue tribute, B. a cynical attempt to rally the troops, now that DaimlerChrysler split up and it's safe to invite him back, or C. both.

Who would serve a similar charismatic role for Ford or GM? That's a tough one.

Strike Three: Psst! Look What's Up Our Sleeve But here's the best way to tell if a car company is truly desperate, and again Chrysler provides the precedent: A truly desperate car company will throw open the super-secret future-product vault and show people the great products they have in the pipeline.

Chrysler did just that with its LH-platform cars of the early 1990s, many months before they went on sale, also sharing an incredible amount of detail on key decisions that were made in developing the cars. Normally that level of detail, and products that far off, are the ultimate hush-hush secrets.

The unsubtle message is, "Don't give up on us, just look at the great stuff we have in the pipeline, if you'll just stick with us until they arrive, everything will be OK." Some wag at Wikipedia said LH stood for "Last Hope." I never heard that one, but at the time, it fit.

If you start seeing "authorized" write-ups and photos of cars that don't go on sale until, say, 2010 or later, you'll know true desperation has arrived.