With Chrysler, Dodge, Ram and Jeep brands consolidating into single dealerships as part of Chrysler’s “Project Genesis” dealer overhaul, CEO Sergio Marchionne is voting overlapping models off the island, starting with Dodge’s Grand Caravan and Avenger. Automotive New [sub] quotes Marchionne saying
We cannot have the same type of vehicle in the showroom because the consumer is not stupid. We’re not going to create the confusion and conflict in the showroom.
Dodge’s minivan (which outsells its Chrysler T&C sibling, albeit at lower margins) and midsized sedan will be replaced in 2013 by a single crossover, based on the next-generation minivan platform. A compact crossover, based on a Fiat platform, will replace the Avenger “after 2014.” Oh, and the subcompact is definitely off. In other words, you can pretty much forget the product plans unveiled two years ago at Chrysler’s five year business plan.
Though Marchionne claims that killing the two Dodges is about “not confusing the customer,” there’s another possibility: with Alfa-Romeo scheduled for a US launch, with a lineup that will eventually include the Giulia midsized sedan (which will form the basis of the next-gen Chrysler 200), a compact CUV, the 4C sportscar, the MiTo subcompact, the Giulietta compact hatch, and possibly a rear-drive flagship, it’s entirely possible that these Dodge cuts foreshadow the phase-out of the Dodge brand. After all, both brands cultivate a sporting image, but base most of their products on mass-market models. Both are on the “emotional” side of the brand spectrum, and both rely heavily on the color red in their branding. If the Avenger and 200 were insufficiently differentiated for Marchionne’s taste, how will Dodge and Alfa distinguish their shared Compact, Compact CUV, and LX-platform flagships? More importantly, why else spin off the Ram brand?
Of course, there’s no way Chrysler would admit such a plan until the Alfa invasion force is ready… which likely won’t be until 2014, when (if?) the all-important midsizer arrives. And Marchionne certainly seems to like having a fat brand portfolio, so perhaps he is comfortable with keeping both brands. But the issue has certainly occurred to him, as he has publicly acknowledged that
The level of competition between these two brands is tremendous because they are both going after the same company. Dodge is the American muscle car, while Alfa is the European muscle car. How we dovetail these two brands is extremely important.
Of course, that was back in 2009, about 15 or 20 iterations of Chrysler Group’s product plans ago. At the time Marchionne was also publicly admitting that Alfa might not make it. But now that Fiat is behind Alfa, and Dodge’s already-lean lineup is going on a diet, the prospect of Alfa replacing Dodge seems very real. And if it doesn’t happen, Chrysler Group is going to have some six-brand dealers, and even more tough differentiation decisions. Stay tuned…