Will it be Chrysler or Peugeot in the USA?
PSA has been planning to set up a return of the Peugeot brand in the United States for some time; merging with Fiat Chrysler will help that plan along by bringing in a distribution system for parts and vehicles.
Many are wondering now if Peugeot will still want to sell cars under its own brand in the United States, a country which has not ever really been friendly to French cars, or whether they will simply co-opt the Chrysler brand. In short, will Chrysler move from being a minivan-and-large-car brand to being a minivan-and-French-car brand?
Peugeot 506 in Chrysler Sebring or Newport form
In the past, AMC and Chrysler sold Renaults as Eagles (and the final Dodge Monaco), but few Americans bought them. Likewise, Chrysler sold its captive European cars “Stateside” without much success—until it dramatically Americanized a SIMCA and sold it as the Plymouth Horizon. Likewise, when Fiat brought over Chryslers under the Lancia name, customers responded with yawns, though perhaps the main reason for that was the obviousness of the move. Two of the three cars were already sold in Europe as Chryslers, and for the Voyager, they didn’t change the model name.
On the other hand, Chrysler had far more luck selling Mitsubishi cars and trucks under its various brands, without actually modifying them except, in some cases, in appearance.
Fiat thought Americans would love the idea of true Italian cars, because Americans like Ferraris and Lamborghinis. That only proves that Americans like very expensive, practically unattainable, impractical cars, and then mostly on magazine covers and posters. When Fiats started showing up, response was tepid at best. Would the hard-to-spell Peugeot do any better? (Citroëns, needless to say, were not seriously considered; and the DS doesn’t seem to be selling well anywhere.)
That is the decision that stands before Peugeot today. Should they relaunch Chrysler in Peugeot’s image? Would a Peugeot crossover end up being rebadged as, say, the Chrysler Aspen (never a fortunate name for the company)? It would instantly provide Chrysler with a series of electrified cars, helping to deal with its fuel-economy shortfalls, and provide product to keep the brand going. But is the Chrysler name an asset or a liability? Many see it as the company that nearly went under in the 1970s, and did go under in the 2000s. On the other hand, the Peugeots certainly couldn’t be Dodges, with their little 1.6 liter engines and clearly-not-Dodge styling.
The idea of bringing in Peugeot as the new Plymouth may attract some, but the last thing PSA-FCA needs is yet another brand; it already has more than anyone but Volkswagen. Plymouth is easier to spell than Peugeot, and sounds more American, but if you’re bringing in another brand, why not save the money on nameplates and just keep the same one?
The other question is how far Peugeot is willing to go in Americanizing. FCA was not very successful with some of its Americanization; the Giulietta became the Dart, which did not help much, and the 200, which was an extremely expensive debacle (though a far more reliable car than the Dart). It did far better with the Jeep Cherokee and Ram ProMaster, and arguably with the Pacifica, which is much further away from the Giulietta. The SCSS-derived Compass and Renegade did quite well, but the platform was originally created by Fiat and GM working together, and was much more thoroughly reworked before anyone saw the first Renegade.
Again, though, the spectre of Fiat must be daunting for Peugeot. The brand was an utter failure in the United States. Alfa Romeo was not quite as much of a failure, but few think it’s living up to expectations or paying its bills.
Will Peugeot come to the United States as itself, or in Chrysler skin? Is it worth continuing either name in North America?
Clark Westfield grew up fixing up and driving past-their-prime American cars, including various GM and Mopar V8s. He has ghostwritten auto news for the last few years, lives in Farmingdale, New York, and can be reached at +1.516-531-4021.