Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Peugeot completed their marriage back on January 16th. Since then there’s been a swirl of rumors as to the company future product plans. More specifically, around plans for the buffet of 14 brands that make up the new combined entity. The Chrysler brand has been rumored to be on the chopping block and that’s one move that should probably happen.
Chrysler has been the proverbial step child in just about each one of its parent company’s mergers. During the DaimlerChrysler era the brand started to get some love with the launch of the iconic 300 sedan in 2004. This sedan reignited love for the Chrysler brand after a general lack of resources in the early days of their marriage with the Germans. For the first time in awhile, a Chrysler product was nearly a fixture in pop culture. Unfortunately, Chrysler’s revitalization sort of stopped there.
During the days of Cerberus Capital ownership the Chrysler brand started to starve. They did manage to provide Chrysler the Aspen SUV, a short-lived rebadge of the Dodge Durango. The Crossfire coupe and Pacifica crossovers both died during the Chrysler LLC days as well. Yet again, Chrysler is left with the 300 and Town & Country as its dominate offerings.
Fiat’s Lofty Goals
By 2009 Fiat entered the fray, acquiring a large stake of Chrysler Group LLC out of bankruptcy. Chrysler’s new Italian investors quickly floated plans to turn the Chrysler brand into their version of Ford’s Lincoln and General Motors’ Cadillac. Stated as a long-term goal, Fiat said they wanted the Chrysler and Lancia brands to be in close cooperation. This plan was also short-lived.
In 2014 Fiat acquired the rest of Chrysler Group LLC. Upon taking greater control, Fiat announced Chrysler wouldn’t become their Cadillac after all. Instead, Chrysler would be a mainstream brand with “premium features.” Fiat Chrysler followed suit with a redesign of the coveted 300 sedan and launched the 200 midsize sedan. A redesigned 200 sedan quickly followed in 2015, but it died in 2017 as FCA wanted to focus on trucks and SUVs.
Chrysler did launch the all-new Pacifica minivan in 2017, which replaced the ancient Town & Country. Once again the Chrysler brand is left with just two models, the 300 and the Pacifica.
Chrysler’s Recent Misery
FCA never demonstrated a particular interest in the Chrysler brand, focusing instead on the lucrative Jeep and Ram brands. Despite Fiat being involved in Chrysler for a dozen years, there’s little to show for it. The Pacifica minivan is certainly noteworthy, but a total lineup of two minivans (including the lesser-Pacifica Voyager) and the 300 is hardly a beacon of success. In an era where SUVs and crossovers reign supreme, Chrysler feels remarkably irrelevant.
Despite the misery, the brand still manages to sell over 100,000 vehicles a year. In 2020 the brand moved 110,464 300’s and minivans. While that seems high for such a small lineup, it’s the lowest annual sales for the brand since 1981. Chrysler’s sales have dropped 66-percent since 2015.
Just End It
Enthusiasts would likely assert that poor product strategy from Chrysler’s litany of owners is a solvable problem. Indeed, it is. What isn’t as solvable is the fact that Chrysler has been largely irrelevant since Chrysler LLC went bankrupt in 2009. Can a brand that’s been starved for over a dozen years even stage a comeback?
Well, anything is possible with enough resources. Stellantis could throw enough money at the problem, but would it be a wise corporate strategy? Probably not when they have 13 other mouths to feed and massive capital requirements in the form of electrification and autonomous vehicles. Despite this steep hill to climb, Stellantis management asserts a commitment to Chrysler’s future.
What could the Chrysler brand even stand for in the North American market? They already have Dodge, Jeep, Ram and Fiat as mainstream brands. The luxury end is covered with Alfa Romeo and Maserati; both have just a touch more brand equity with luxury buyers than Chrysler.