For months local dealers had been hearing this desperate refrain from Chrysler L.L.C.: Order cars from us - even if you don't need them.
But in recent weeks, Chrysler had so sweetened its cash incentives to do this that one dealer said the endgame seemed clear: Chrysler was trying to fortify showrooms with enough cars to withstand a one-month shutdown at all of its plants, a move announced today.
"I am not surprised a bit," said David Dodge owner David Kelleher in Glen Mills.
"We live in a supply-and-demand world, so it just makes sense."
Kelleher said Chrysler had been sending signals to dealers for at least two weeks that it intended a severe shutdown in production. It offered dealers $2,000 cash up front for each excess car they ordered. So Kelleher ordered 23 more than he needed for his Airport Automall shop and 13 more for Glen Mills. It is enough to last him into March, beyond the shutdown, which he described as a "smart" business move given the glut of vehicles as sales have slowed.
Dodge dealer Ivan Nelson of South Jersey, however, was taken aback by the news.
"I'm a little bit surprised," said the general manager of a franchise whose portfolio includes Lilliston Chrysler Dodge Jeep in Millville, N.J.
Nelson said Chrysler incentives for ordering cars had seemed like a rallying cry rather than a precursor to an unprecedented stalling of assembly lines.
"The message we got was that they were doing this to keep the plants going - not shut them down," he said.
Of particular concern, he said, is whether he'll have enough Dodge Ram trucks to meet rising demand.
"If the supply dwindles," Nelson said, "it's going to be an issue."