Chrysler LLC CEO Robert Nardelli has turned to New York ad-man Peter Arnell to help his sort out everything from product design selection top his speeches and brand strategies for Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep.
Arnell, who has been at Chrysler before, is working as a consultant to the CEO as he tries to hatch a workable direction for the auto company to succeed. But it’s not Arnell’s past with Chrysler that made Nardelli turn to him. Arnell infamously created a $14 million program to launch the Chrysler Pacifica utility wagon around singing Diva Celine Dion. The program bombed with dealers, a new marketing executive who inherited the program, and the media.
Nardelli used Arnell at Home Depot where the ad-man created “Orange Works,” an innovation group at the DIY chain.
Ad Age says “Associates call Arnell a genius and an idea generator.” Um…yeah. Others call him a glorified wedding planner who is in love with his own press. I’m in that camp, having followed Arnell’s trajectory from my days at Adweek between 1987 and 1994 and 97-98, as well as covering marketing after 2000. In Texas, Arnell would be referred to as “all hat and no cattle.” In Detroit, they say he is “all air-intake and no horsepower.” To CEOs, Arnell has long been like an ad mistress they turn to when they get disenchanted or bored with the ad agencies they are married to.
He cultivates a deep rolodex of celebrities whom he often turns to when trying to create a flashy solution for a client. Ad Age also noted that he is friends with Frank Gehry. Um…okay. And how that is going to help Chrysler sell more Sebrings is a bit lost on me, I’m afraid.
The presence of Arnell in such key areas as product planning and design tells me that CEO Nardelli doesn’t yet have his arms around the auto business. If he has issues with his chief of design and chief of product planning, then he should replace them, as has been widely rumored for months anyway. Adding an ad-man who has Celine Dion on his speed dial is not going to make these guys get smart. One of the areas Arnell is said to be consulting on is interior design. For more than a year, it has been clear that Chrysler lost the plot on interior design, opting for cheap looking materials on all of its new vehicles. Memo to Mr. Nardelli. The designers didn’t procure interior materials that look like they were from a 1994 Hyundai parts bin because they thought it looked hip. They did it because former COO Wolfgang Bernhard and CEO Dieter Zetsche told executives they had to take 40% of the cost out of the interiors regardless of the outcome. The result is a flock of products that have been panned by consumers in J.D. Power APEAL ratings, which judge such aspects of the vehicles.
I can only imagine the product planning and design meetings in which Arnell will be adding his two cents. I wish I could watch the video. Please…some of you blokes at Chrysler…keep your Treos running. Ironically, one of the highest profile projects to come out of OrangeWorks at Home Depot was an ergonomically designed fire extinguisher. Nardelli is going to need those now more than ever.