Wednesday marks the 16th anniversary of the Daimler-Chrysler merger. One day prior to this milestone, Fiat Chrysler has unveiled their business plan for the next 5 years. While the industry norm is to keep future product plans, brand strategies and sales targets as a closely guarded secret, FCA took the unusual step of making it all public, with FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne headlining the event (billed as a conference for investors) at an event in Auburn Hills, Michigan. Each of FCA’s brands and subsidiaries was given the chance to present their strategy through 2018, with healthy helpings of new vehicles, future technology and corporate strategy being revealed.
Chrysler: Currently, the Chrysler brand is arguably the weakest in FCA’s portfolio, with just three offerings – the D-segment Chrysler 200, the E-segment Chrysler 300 and the Town and Country minivan. Combined, those account for just 350,000 units globally, a tiny number in the context of a 16 or 17 million unit market in the United States alone. As part of its growth plan, Chrysler will shift away from being a pseudo-premium brand to a mainstream line, aiming to compete with brands like Ford, Hyundai, Chevrolet, Toyota and Honda. The brand will add a new compact sedan, and two new crossovers, as well as hybrid capability on the larger CUV and the Town & Country minivan. Chrysler is aiming to increase sales to 800,000 units globally by 2018, equal to its best years ever in America, in the middle of the last decade – but Chrysler will be relying on stronger global sales to reach this number.
- The Chrysler 100 sedan will debut in 2016, ostensibly as a sister car to the Dodge Dart. While details were not revealed, we can expect both the 1.4L Turbo 4-cylinder engine, as well as the 2.4L 4-cylinder paired to a 9-speed automatic. Although the latter combination was promised for the Dart long ago, it has failed to materialize. The Dart is scheduled for a 2016 refresh, and the 2.4L/9-speed could appear at that time.
- The Chrysler 300 will receive a refresh later this year, while the 200 will get one in 2017.
- A larger crossover, sized to compete with the Toyota Highlander and Chevrolet Traverse, launches in 2017. This will likely share a platform with the Chrysler Town & Country minivan, due to its footprint and its plug-in hybrid capability.
- A mid-size crossover, comparable to the Hyundai Santa Fe or Ford Edge, bows in 2018. This will likely share the CUSW underpinnings of the Chrysler 200 and Jeep Cherokee.
- The Chrysler Town & Country will be the sole minivan in FCA’s portfolio, bowing in 2016. It will be available as a plug-in hybrid to help meet regulatory requirements for ZEVs.
Dodge: In the “internal turf war” for mainstream volume offerings, Dodge is the clear loser. The upshot for enthusiasts is that Dodge will transition to being a more emotional and performance oriented brand, while still retaining its price point as a mainstream value brand. As part of Chrysler’s consolidation and push for “brand purity”, the Grand Caravan and Avenger will disappear, with the former departing in 2016. Dodge sales are expected to stay flat, with 600,000 units targeted in 2018 – Dodge sold roughly 596,000 units in 2013, and is expected to see lower volumes in the intermittent years.
- A new B-segment Dodge will debut in 2018, offering both sedan and hatchback bodystyles, as well as undisclosed turbocharged engines. Previous rumors have suggested that a small Dodge would carry the Hornet name.
- The Dart will soldier on until 2016, with FCA planning to market the car with aggressive leases and better content. 2016 will bring cosmetic changes as well as improvements to the driving dynamics and powertrains. A Dart SRT, with a high-performance turbocharged engine and all-wheel drive, will bow at the end of 2016.
- A replacement for the Dodge Journey – including an SRT version – will bow in mid-2016.
- All-new versions of the Dodge Charger and Challenger will bow in 2018 (alongside a new Chrysler 300), with SRT versions arriving at the end of 2018.
- The Dodge Durango will continue through 2018, though it may disappear to make room for a three-row Jeep Grand Wagoneer.
- The SRT Viper will become a Dodge again, and carry on through 2018.
Ferrari: FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne presented Ferrari’s outline, which was light on product plans. Ferrari will cap production at 7,000 units per year, introducing one new model every year. There are provisions to increase capacity to 10,000 units annually, and each model will be on a four year cycle, with updated variants (think 458 Speciale) launched as well. While Marchionne stressed that “Ferrari is not for sale”.
With a volume of 10,000 units, EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) is estimated to be around $1 billion for Ferrari alone, thanks to its three custom car lines (which presumably generates huge margins) and the extremely lucrative revenue stream built into the brand – its merchandising and licensing business. Ferrari licenses its brand to everything from laptops to athletic apparel to model cars, and these are frequently sold as luxury goods. By comparison, Marchionne noted that conventional luxury good companies are often valued at 9x-12x EBITDA – and his presentation made explicit mention of Ferrari’s target of 15 percent gross margin, and an apparent valuation of between 3.3 and 5.4 billion euros.
Fiat: Fiat’s presentation was the most confusing, with the brand eschewing the unidirectional approach taken by the other marques in FCA’s portfolio. A more apt-description is that Fiat is the exact opposite of “One Ford”, with the brand offering distinct product for NAFTA, Latin America, Europe and Asia.
- Fiat will dump the Suzuki SX4-based Sedici (replaced by the Fiat 500L) and the C-segment Fiat Bravo (replaced by the Fiat 500/Panda).
- Future product will straddle the line between functional, mainstream transportation with a “cool” bent (mostly in Europe and other developed world markets) and a novel, European brand (NAFTA). This dichotomy was presented in the form of the Fiat 124 and 124 Sport (a family car and a sports car) and the smaller Uno being sold alongside the dramatic, performance oriented Fiat Coupe of the mid-1990s.
- In Brazil and Latin America, Fiat will shed many of its legacy nameplates, including the Palio, Siena and Linea. They will be replaced with a new A-segment car, a new Uno, a Punto/Palio replacement, a new Grand Siena, a new compact CUV and a new pickup, as well as the Strada small pickup.
- Fiat will bring the Renegade-based 500X crossover to North America, as well as a “Speciality” product, presumed to be a Fiat/Abarth branded sports car, based off the next Mazda MX-5.
Jeep: Jeep is one of FCA’s profit centers, and the SUV brand will undergo a major re-orientation from a NAFTA-centric maker of rough-and-ready SUVs to a global brand composed of both crossovers and traditional off-road vehicles. Jeep will transofrm from a brand of 800,000 American-made vehicles to one with manufacturing facilities in the USA, Brazil, India, China and the EU, with sales projections of 1.9 million units globally. Jeep will gain 9 new plants in 5 new countries .
- Jeep will introduce a new replacement for the Compass and Patriot in 2016, consolidated under one nameplate.
- The Grand Wagoneer will return in 2018 as a three-row vehicle, potentially replacing the Dodge Durango.
- A new Wrangler and Grand Cherokee will bow in 2017.
Maserati: Along with Alfa Romeo, Maserati will be positioned as a premium performance brand, with new product offerings. Although the Levante SUV is still on, more details were released about the Alfieri Coupe and Convertible. Maserati is aiming to increase sales from 15,000 to 75,000 units.
- The Alfieri will offer turbocharged V6 (410, 450 and 520 horsepower), and all-wheel drive. Rear drive will be available only on the lower output V6 model.
- The Levante will offer 350 and 425 horsepower V6 engines and a 560 horsepower V8 as well as a range of diesels.
Alfa Romeo: After nearly a decade of broken promises, we have yet another Alfa Romeo product plant that is being presented as the savoir of this once hallowed brand. Alfa Romeo’s narrative has always been grander than its financial success, but things are particularly dismal, with sales below 200,000 units and a lineup of just two small, front-drive hatchbacks and a low volume sports car.
As part of Alfa’s latest revival attempt, the brand has been transformed into what it dubs a “skunk works”, akin to what Chrysler wanted to do with SRT – create an independent workshop that is conducive to experimentation and creativity, free from bureaucracy and rigid corporate processes. Alfa’s top bosses are two Ferrari engineers, with a staff of 200 hand-picked individuals, which FCA hopes to expand to 600 by 2015.
- Alfa is aiming to launch 8 new products by 2018, with a range of 4 and 6-cylinder gasoline and diesel engines. Alfas will be exclusively rear or all-wheel drive.
- The first new vehicle, a mid-size sedan, will bow in 2015. From there, a full-size sedan, two CUVs and a new “speciality” car will debut by 2018.
- The Mito and Giulietta compacts will die.
- FCA is aiming for 400,000 units by 2018, including 150,000 units in the United States.
Ram: As one of FCA’s other big profit centers, Ram is a key brand for the company, but exists largely in the NAFTA region. The half-ton trucks will see a refresh in 2015, along with a redesign in 2017, with heavy-duty trucks getting freshened in alternate years. Aluminum will likely not be a part of the new trucks, as Ram feels that the diesel half-ton truck is competitive against Ford’s aluminum RAM, and has been downplaying the durability and cost-effectiveness of the aluminum F-150. On the commercial vehicle front, a small Ram ProMaster City, based on the Fiat Doblo, bows this year.
While auto makers like Volkswagen, Toyota and Nissan are moving to radical solutions for platform consolidation, FCA’s plan showed little evidence of any move to substantially combine existing product architectures. Currently, FCA has 18 vehicle architectures, with the top 4 platforms accounting for just under half of total volume, 12 architectures representing 95 percent of volume. By 2018, this number will shrink to just 15 architectures, with the top for accounting for 70 percent of volume, and 9 architectures accounting for 95 percent of volume.
Proportionally, this is not much of a reduction, and it lags far behind Volkswagen’s strategy of just 4 modular “kits”. FCA also lacks the level of scale and volume that VW has, which would make it easier to absorb the costs and inefficiencies that come with having so many different architectures. FCA discussed its goals of bringing down costs via better purchasing practices, more shared components (like lighting, HVAC systems and interior pieces), but their plan for increasing efficiencies via shared architectures was markedly less sophisticated than much of the competition. Given the importance of achieving significant economies of scale in the future (a topic that Sergio Marchionne frequently expounds on), it was surprising to see FCA unveil a plan that is already behind the times relative to the larger OEMs that it must compete with.
On the powertrain front, FCA is downplaying the importance of fuel cell and EV powertrains, introducing EVs for regulatory compliance in the USA. Plug-in hybrids will trickle into the lineup in future, as will mild-hybrid technology like start-stop systems and Belt Starter Generators. FCA dismissed fuel cells as a non-viable alternative, and said that CNG and diesel will play a role in world markets more than in NAFTA. FCA will continue to buy emissions credits in the interim.
Finance: While much of the presentation material was focused on global issues, two things stood out.
- FCA will continue to use Santander as its captive arm, and will not start a new one.
- The overall tone regarding subprime financing was bullish, with executives dismissive suggestions of any systemic issues.
Sales and Global Markets: Separate presentations were conducted for Asia, Latin America, Europe and NAFTA regions.
- In the NAFTA region, FCA sold 2.1 million units in 2013, and is projecting a steady increase in the U.S. SAAR, rising to 17 million units by 2018. By that time, FCA is looking to sell another 1 million units in the NAFTA zone and increase exports by 33 percent to 380,000 units. However, no capacity increases were discussed for NAFTA, and Marchionne commented on his distaste for two-tier wages in the UAW, suggesting that profit sharing was an option in the future. Difficulties negotiating with organized labor could spell trouble for FCA’s plans.
- In Europe, FCA has seen sales decline by over half since 2010, while capacity utilization has declined from over 100 percent to around 67 percent – a dangerously low level for a volume auto maker. Fiat’s home market of Italy was among the hardest hit, and Europe’s 13.8 million vehicle market in 2013 is at its lowest levels since 2007. FCA now has to reposition Fiat not just as an Italian mainstream brand, but one that fits the current paradigm where “cool” budget brands like Dacia and premium brands like Audi are stealing market share with their offerings that encroach on the turf of volume vehicles. Higher margin brands like Jeep, Alfa Romeo and certain Fiat products (like the 500) are their weapons of choice, as FCA aims for an increase from 1.1 million in 2013 to 1.5 million units by 2018.
- In Latin America, FCA is well established in Brazil and Argentina, with multiple assembly plants in the two countries running at over 100 percent capacity. FCA expects the market to grow from 5.9 million units this year to 6.9 million units in 2018, with most of that growth coming from Brazil, a country where Fiat is the closest thing to a national brand. Jeep is also expected to be a strong player, with Brazilian production of the Renegade expected to start in 2015. FCA is planning to increase sales from 900,000 units this year to 1.3 million units in 2018. Fiat is expected to account for 1.1 million units, Jeep for 200,000 units and other brands making up the remainder.
- Asia, India, Australia and other Pacific markets are also being given increasing attention by FCA, with China remaining the dominant market at 28 million units. FCA expects India to overtake Japan as its second largest market by 2018, with 5 million units annually. While FCA projects an increase from 200,000 units in 2013 to 1.1 million units by 2018, on the back of strong sales of Jeep crossovers in India and China, as well as a wide new range of Fiat product. The only question is – how will they pay for all this new product?
FCA’s day-long meeting was an anomaly in the industry, providing car enthusiasts with a detailed look at future product offerings, and intense discussions of FCA’s various brands and their respective visions. No other OEM is so candid with their upcoming debuts, and FCA deserves praise for setting a positive example for other OEMs.
But dig a little deeper, and many important questions remain answered.
- FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne is one of the biggest advocates for the necessity of economics of scale via increasing volumes, yet his plan for reducing the number of architectures looks amateur compared to the extremely aggressive plans laid out by archrival Volkswagen. While VWs global volume was 9.7 million units in 2013, it is paring down its architectures to just 4. Meanwhile, FCA, which sold 1.5 million units globally in 2013, will have 15 architectures and volumes of 5.7 million units worldwide. Compared to VW, Nissan, Toyota and even General Motors (which has a sophisticated set of architectures for its global products), FCA’s strategy seems bloated, if not obsolete, from Day 1.
- FCA is all-in on the internal combustion engine, and is only just dipping its toe into the water of plug-in vehicles, with a plug-in hybrid. EVs are solely produced to appease regulators, and fuel cell vehicles are not in the cards. Even long-time advocates of the internal combustion engine have some kind of ZEV program (such as Hyundai, which has a fuel-cell program). This is a risky gambit, with significant upside and downside potential. Many EV programs aren’t going as well as OEMs had hoped, but FCA could be left in the dust in terms of R&D.
- FCA is dangerously reliant on both Jeep and RAM for their profits. A 2008-like combination of spiking gas prices and a downturn in the economy (especially housing starts, which are a key driver of pickup sales) could leave FCA exposed to both falling demand for gas-guzzling trucks and have a severe impact on the high numbers of FCA vehicles financed via subprime rates. These less credit-worthy borrowers would likely be the first to default on their payments, and a mass repossession of FCA vehicles could be another blow at an inopportune time.
- There has been no mention of how the substantial increase in NAFTA sales will come without any additional NAFTA capacity (something Sergio Marchionne has previously sworn off). Jeeps imported from Italy and Brazil (and even China) could be an option, but booming sales of Ram trucks couldn’t be built anywhere else. Marchionne’s comments about his distaste for two-tier wages could also spell trouble for his hourly workforce when it’s time to negotiate their contracts in 2016.
- Who is financing all of the(mostly Fiat) new product earmarked for Asia? And why all this talk of Ferrari’s value if the company is not for sale?
- Is Alfa really going to sell 150,000 units (volumes comparable to Audi) in America? Even the most dewey-eyed Alfa diehards in the industry find that to be a bit of a stretch.
Marchionne and FCA have been known to say one thing and then completely change direction, miss deadlines and dodge questions about missing deliverables (the 9-speed Dart is the automotive world’s Jimmy Hoffa). But they’ve also presented an admirable turnaround for a once-ailing car maker, even when the rest of the world was prepared to write them off. Yes, one may argue that Marchionne and Fiat bought Chrysler’s assets for a song, and that the road has at times been rocky. But a decade ago, plans for Jeep’s global expansion, Ram’s possible conquest of GM trucks and a thriving line of Chrysler and Dodge products would have been the stuff of only the most zealous Mopar fan. It’s now a very real possibility.