Chrysler's Souped Up Sideshow

CHRYSLER MAY BE NO.3 among U.S. auto makers, but it emerged No.1 in its class in San Diego. Archrival General Motors, despite being the official car provider (320 lent to dignitaries), settled for hosting a luncheon in the San Diego Civic Center. Ford wasn't even there, for unspecified reasons.

Then there was Chrysler. A 40,000-square-foot parking garage next to the convention center became a softly lit exhibition hall featuring a collection of models from 1924 to the present. A 1930s-era display included a mock-up of a vintage Texaco service station. Chrysler also showcased its recently unveiled retro hot rod, the $35,000 purple Prowler, on a dais in front of the hall.

The exhibit became the venue for nonstop parties with lavish food and an open bar. Chrysler Chairman Robert Eaton held a salute to Michigan Governor John Engler. Then came events honoring the GOP freshman class, as well as officeholders from states with Chrysler plants, such as Ohio Governor George Voinovich and Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson.

The performance underscored what many observers already knew. Chrysler, which battled back from near-collapse in the 1980s, "is better at showmanship," says auto marketing consultant Susan Jacobs. During the Democrats' Chicago convention on Aug. 26-29, Chrysler will reprise the show at Navy Pier.

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