Chrysler’s Not Dead, It’s Just Wounded

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2018 Chrysler 300 Limited - Image: FCA

Rampant speculation on the Chrysler brand’s demise was premature. During a Q&A session in Italy on Friday, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne announced that the brand has a future, but it won’t be as big as it once was.

Already, the brand pales in comparison to even the recent past. In 2005, Chrysler sales in the United States topped 600,000 vehicles (we all remember those Sebrings), and the brand plateaued above 300,000 annual sales in the period spanning 2012 to 2015. Last year’s tally? Just over 188,000 sales — not surprising, given its lineup now consists of a single, aging large sedan and a modern minivan. U.S. sales are down 9 percent over the first five months of 2018.

Marchionne’s remarks proved an earlier Bloomberg report true: Chrysler will become a North American brand. And Fiat? Sorry, it doesn’t look like it’s going to work.

Speaking from the company’s Balocca proving grounds, Marchionne called rumors of Chrysler’s demise “nonsense.” The company’s five-year product plan, released earlier Friday morning, omitted any mention of Fiat, Chrysler, and Dodge because the company wants to focus on global brands and global goals, he said.

Given the public’s shift towards larger vehicles, Marchionne said the Fiat brand would get a makeover, positioning it closer to the higher end of the market, especially in Europe. It’s hard to make profits off mass-market small cars, Marchionne said, adding that the company needs to identify places “where Fiat can play best.” Those places include Latin America, where the brand has a long history. As for North America, Marchionne said he doesn’t think the brand can “make it.”

“The numbers won’t be big enough,” he added. Consider that a confirmation of Fiat’s eventual demise in North America. (Buyers are already helping it reach that goal.)

When and how the brand disappears remains to be seen.

“Chrysler is a different story,” Marchionne said. “Chrysler is going to continue to be relevant in the United States.” He referenced the Pacifica, which remains the only hybrid minivan on the domestic market, as one of the reasons why the brand has a future. At last check, there’s two crossovers bound for the Chrysler stable (midsize and large), but Friday’s plan revealed no updates on those vehicles.

In its bid for greater profitability, FCA’s global focus lies on Jeep, Ram, Alfa Romeo, and Maserati. That relegates Chrysler and Dodge (which garnered nary a mention on Friday, at least thus far) to North America. “I don’t expect, in my view, for Chrysler to become a global brand,” Marchionne said.

[Image: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles]