Expect to hear about more crossovers and the fate of Chrysler, Dodge brands
We love FCA’s five-year plans. The automaker does not adhere strictly to them, but they provide a detailed snapshot of what the company sees as possible and which brands and vehicles are part of the vision.
CEO Sergio Marchionne will present his third product and business plan on June 1. The first one was back in November of 2009 after he assumed leadership of the new entity known as FCA, a merging of Chrysler and Fiat that was a prerequisite of government loans for Chrysler to emerge from bankruptcy.
The first plan outlined financial targets and a product rollout for each brand for the period from 2010 to 2014. It was followed up by another five-year plan through 2018.
In Balocco, Italy, on June 1, the FCA maestro will oversee his final planning document but Marchionne will not be the one to see it through—he is retiring next year. His successor, who will not be named at the June 1 investor gathering, is part of the current leadership team and has helped craft the new plan he will be expected to execute.
Here are some things we want to know.
Just how far can Jeep go?
Jeep has firmly established itself as the SUV brand and received a lot of resources under Marchionne to make it more global and expand the bandwidth of the portfolio. The lineup grew to include the subcompact Renegade at one end but we still await the addition of the Grand Wagoneer at the top end. The premium three-row SUV was originally due in 2018 and has been pushed back to 2020. Also on tap is the Wrangler pickup due in late 2019. It would be nice if the plan did some name dropping so we know what to call it.
There should be further confirmation of timelines for these vehicles and there could be more Jeeps in the pipeline as well as dates for next-generation models. At least one plug-in hybrid is expected after 2020 and we expect many more hybrids to dot the lineup.
A lot of capital has been invested in the premium Italian brands that have not met expectations. New products were delayed and sales have been disappointing. Marchionne recently singled out the poor launch of the Maserati Levante and replaced brand chief Reid Bigland with Tim Kuniskis, a man who showed his marketing chops at Dodge when he generated huge buzz around the Dodge Challenger Hellcat and Demon. Marchionne needs Kuniskis to ignite the same flames under Alfa and Maserati.
The portfolios need to expand. Maserati is expected to add a smaller SUV and future Maseratis will have electric motors. Alfa Romeo is adding a larger three-row crossover on the Giorgio platform as a big brother to the Stelvio and we expect the plan to also include a Giulia coupe. Both are expected to be mild hybrids.
Is there a future for the Chrysler and Dodge brands?
Getting out of small cars has had a huge impact on the Chrysler and Dodge brands which lost a chunk of their portfolios. Chrysler has been reduced to the Pacifica minivan, including a plug-in hybrid, and the 300 full-size sedan. A large three-row crossover sharing the Pacifica’s underpinnings will be built on the same assembly line. It has been repeatedly delayed but it is promised in the new plan and could be ready for the 2020 model year. It might dust off the retired Aspen name. The Chrysler Portal electric minivan concept could be under consideration for production.
The future of the 300 is shrouded in uncertainty. One consideration was moving the rear-wheel-drive car’s successor to the front-wheel-drive Pacifica platform. Then there was talk of hanging in until 2021 and migrating to the Alfa Romeo platform used for the Giulia. Now it appears more likely it could share underpinnings with the Maserati Ghibli or it gets discontinued altogether.
Dodge has been reduced to a handful of vehicles. There is the Journey crossover that could move to Alfa’s Giorgio platform for the next generation. There is the legacy Grand Caravan minivan that will be phased out soon. There are the Charger and Challenger muscle cars, including the Hellcat and Demon offspring. Like the Chrysler 300, they ride on old platforms and their only hope of survival is to move to another platform such as Ghibli. None of that bodes well for a Barracuda convertible. But there is talk of bringing back the Viper using an Alfa or even Ferrari platform.
The idea of a midsize or compact pickup has been on and off again for years. And if FCA does want to venture back into the segment it abandoned when it stopped making the Dodge Dakota in 2010, will the replacement be body-on-frame again or switch to a car-based lifestyle truck? We suspect there won’t be a small truck in the plan but anything is possible. As for the full-size Rams, dates for next-generation models will prove helpful and we expect a wide assortment of powertrains, including hybrids.
Marchionne was outspoken in the past about his dislike for hybrids and electric vehicles while embracing diesels. But he also changes his mind and his plans frequently, taking advantage of the nimbleness of a smaller company to do so. The future of diesels is dead; he is now all in on electrification and every brand, including Ferrari, will be rife with batteries and electric motors. Mild hybrid 48-volt systems will proliferate and the plug-in hybrid system in the Chrysler Pacifica will expand to more vehicles. Grand Wagoneer is a good candidate. Pure EVs will take longer.
What, no Ferrari?
Ferrari will have its own five-year plan. The high-value brand was spun off from FCA but when Marchionne retires from FCA next year, he will retain his role as CEO of Ferrari. Marchionne has confirmed development of a wagon-like, all-wheel-drive four-door crossover –he flat out calls it an SUV—that will be ready in late 2019 or early 2020. Future Ferraris will include hybrids and the CEO says the brand could make an all-electric performance car but has no plans to do so in the next five years.
Is Marchionne wearing a tie?
The Italian-Canadian is known for wearing the same black sweater for every occasion but he has promised to wear a tie to the June 1 event if he is successful in leaving the company debt-free for his successor. No other event has warranted the wardrobe upgrade, showing how important retiring net debt is to Marchionne’s legacy.
Does he still want to fill his dance card?
Marchionne says he updates his 2015 “Confessions of a Capital Junkie” treatise daily in the belief the high cost of pending technology, including autonomous driving, requires automotive partnerships and mergers to share the cost. Yes, General Motors and others have snubbed his advances, and he has made peace with it, but that does not mean he has a diminished view of its importance.
Stay tuned to Motor Trend on June 1 for the firehose of news the product plan is expected to unleash.