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Chrysler comes to Detroit auto show without a splashy new lineup

Ford swept the 2010 North American Car and Truck Awards at the Detroit auto show, while General Motors and others showed off concept vehicles to gauge consumer interest and even hint at future vehicles.
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 13, 2010

DETROIT -- The news around Chrysler, the U.S. automaker bailed out by the government last summer, has been almost uniformly gloomy.

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The company's sales have plummeted; its market share has shrunk. This week, Chrysler's appearance at the 2010 North American International Auto Show has been panned because it has no really new cars to show. In a departure from the past, it did not hold a major news conference during the media preview days here.

But according to Sergio Marchionne, the charismatic Fiat boss who is now Chrysler's chief executive, it's all going according to plan.

"It's not a miracle," he told a group of reporters on Tuesday. "It's going to be a tough year."

Indeed, though Chrysler emerged from bankruptcy last year with U.S. tax support and Marchionne at the helm, the company has continued a severe slump.

Now the automaker is at a critical turn, as is the Obama administration's effort to save it.

Marchionne forecasts better days just six months from now. He and federal officials involved in the bailout say they anticipated a continued decline through last year because the company had little in its pipeline.

But if U.S. sales continue much longer as they are now, there won't be much left to save.

In 2005, Chrysler's U.S. sales surpassed 2 million vehicles. Then came the turmoil, with precipitous sales drops in the past two years. Chrysler finished 2009 selling about 930,000 vehicles. The company's market share dropped below 9 percent.

Chrysler's appearance at the auto show this week has done little to persuade skeptics, moreover. Like the shortage of new cars, the melding of Fiat and Chrysler has drawn puzzled looks -- a Ferrari, a Maserati and a Fiat 500 were parked between Chrysler's Dodge and Jeep displays.

"It's just random over there," said Jessica Caldwell, an industry analyst at Edmunds.com. "There's really not a lot of substance in their pipeline."

Marchionne dismissed the idea that the company was now on a "wild ride."

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