What’s going on at Chrysler?
Updated December 27, 2019
What’s going on at FCA US—or, as many still say, though the company no longer exists, at Chrysler?
The late Fiat Chrysler Automobiles chief executive Sergio Marchionne set out a strategy years ago, which set a small number of brands apart as “global”—Alfa Romeo, Fiat, Jeep, and Maserati. Lancia dropped back to a single, geofenced car, which now appears to be on the chopping block; and Chrysler has dropped down to two vehicles, again geographically limited. Ram, on the other hand, is being expanded into a global brand, even though its main products in much of the world have little in common with the US-based big pickups.
The next Chrysler 300 is expected to be a crossover, if it shows up at all
Dodge was supposed to have a wider produce range by now, including a replacement for the ancient Dodge Journey crossover. First it was to be based on CUSW, like the Cherokee, which would have been relatively easy; then it was moved to a rework fo the Alfa Romeo Stelvio, but longer, more spacious, and less expensive. There was even supposed to be a replacement for the old Dodge Magnum, a
station wagon crossover based on the 300 and similar to the Charger. Later, the rumor mill claimed that the next-generation 300 will be the crossover, not a sedan; and that Dodge would continue with a new Charger sedan and Challenger coupe. None of this changes with the Peugeot merger (or, really, takeover; because while the two parties have made it clear that this is a merger of equals, one can’t help but notice that the Fiat product line is being junked almost entirely, while the PSA lineup isn’t changing much.)
The Journey replacement, since it would have to be relatively inexpensive and since front wheel drive is better for most buyers, was long expected to be a facelifted and Americanized version of the Jeep Grand Commander, which is a kind of cross between the Jeep Cherokee and Chrysler Pacifica in size, design, and dimensions. This is still apparently in the works, since it’s progressed so far already.
Development has been slow as Sergio Marchionne made frequent changes, budgets were slashed to avoid cash shortages in the predicted recession (which is now a year overdue), and new products were assigned to assembly lines which were not ready.
Since Fiat Chrysler doesn’t leak many secrets, the public isn’t likely to know for sure what’s coming until just before it arrives. But many are still expecting Chrysler to be sidelined like Lancia is, maybe just having a minivan as its sole product, and for Dodge to be surviving until the next major fuel crisis hits. Even though Peugeot can provide designs for lightweight and reliable crossovers for Chrysler, there are reportedly still plans to sell them as Peugeots in the United States, which would beg the question of why they’d also sell as Chryslers; it may be that Chrysler will be treated in the US as DS is treated in Europe, though. Peugeot may come over as itself, with the nicer versions sold as Chryslers.
The news isn’t bad for Dodge, which is sharing heavily with Maserati, Alfa Romeo, and Jeep in the next generation. The brand new Giorgio platform/architecture is not slated for demolition. Neither is Ram.
It’s clear that Jeep and Ram are the favorites, since both have a global attraction and high profit margin. It’s less clear what’s going to happen to Alfa Romeo without Sergio Marchionne as its champion. Fiat is reportedly dropping its 500 and Panda entirely, though chances are they will return on a larger Peugeot body. The Compass, Renegade, and Cherokee will, in the next decade, move to Peugeot’s CMP and EMP2 platforms, but that is likely to be a long-term phase-in. The character of Jeep is likely to actually improve under leadership that is more decisive and wastes less money adding and dropping projects with each change of the wind.
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, and lives in Farmingdale, New York.