Do Dodge or Chrysler Have a Future?
Do Dodge or Chrysler have a future?
FCA has three brands that are definitely global: Jeep, Alfa Romeo, and Maserati. Ram is slowly becoming semi-global, appearing in greater quantities outside North America. (Mopar doesn’t count, since it’s a parts business.)
The key to looking at the future of any FCA brand is to consider whether it can sell at a premium. Fiat can do that, in Europe, with the 500, which is why they are still investing in new 500s—but they’ve cut back on other Fiat models. If they can’t make a good profit, the car dies, and Fiat can’t make a good profit by competing solely on price.
Chrysler is a problem. Politically, (that is, relations among customers and employees, not that other kind of politics where you show up at a ballot box and vote), getting rid of Chrysler would be hard. It was the name of that company that used to be FCA US from 1925 to 2017 or so.
Originally, Dodge was supposed to be paired up with Alfa Romeo, but the one and only car based on that idea, the Dart, was a complete, dismal failure. Americans don’t get the idea of a car with a so-so engine and good handling, unless it has the word “MAZDA” on the back and an optional engine that’s pretty good. There were a bunch of other problems with the Dart, but the important thing now is that American customers failed to see it as truly sporty because of the lack of a strong engine.
Then they did the Hellcat V8s and Dodge sales went up. If you play to American ideals and notions, you can make a successful muscle brand. Pontiac’s mistake was watering-down, not becoming a niche. Dodge hasn’t made that mistake since the Dart and they’ve done pretty well. In the United States and Canada, that is. Nowhere else.
So the case for Dodge works as long as they can profitably make cars that can hold big V8s. That means sharing with Alfa Romeo is very hard because Alfas are meant for handling first and acceleration second, which means small forced-air engines and maybe electrics or hybrids, while Dodge means big V8s. Maybe you can sell a bunch of sixes, too, but it’s the eights that sell the sixes. In short, once you have Dodge defined as muscle, the Alfa pairing breaks apart.
How can you get away with more Dodges? Either pair with Maserati instead, and make some changes under the hood, or pair with Jeep. Yes, I said pair with Jeep. Does anyone remember the Volkswagen Phaeton luxury car? It was just one of their crossovers, in sedan form. So put a next-gen Grand Cherokee into sedan form, get rid of the off-road stuff, and voila, you have a Dodge. Then you can have your big V8s.
The case for Chrysler is harder. Really, it’s hard to find one other than “where do we keep the minivans?” The fact that we haven’t seen any of the rumored new Chrysler crossovers tells you something. Chrysler does not command a premium, it demands incentives and rebates. To make the Pacifica sell better than the Toyota or Honda minivans takes a lot of money on the hood and lower prices up front, even though it’s arguably a better van. Chrysler will always stink of failure, a bankruptcy and a bailout, to many Americans, just like Fiat stands for “fix it again, Tony.”
FCA could drop Chrysler and rename the Pacifica to Grand Caravan tomorrow (renaming the current Grand Caravan to just “Caravan”) and it probably wouldn’t lose many sales. The only reason they haven’t done it yet, most likely, is fear of how employees and customers will react. Of course, if they dropped Fiat on the same day, at least in North America, that would ease the blow a little.
It’s been a tough quarter-century for American car brands. GM lost Oldsmobile, Pontiac, and Saturn, Ford lost Mercury, Toyota lost Scion, and Chrysler lost Plymouth. There are probably one or two more on the endangered species list, and Chrysler is most likely to disappear.
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.