By on September 26, 2014

2012 Fiat 500 AbarthWe can look at this two different ways. “Chrysler Group LLC today reported U.S. sales of 198,379 units, a 20 percent increase compared with sales in August 2013 (165,552 units), and the group’s best August sales since 2002,” their press release said at the beginning of this month. 

Chrysler, Dodge, Fiat, Jeep, and Ram combined for an industry-leading 19.8% year-over-year improvement. With 198,379 sales, Chrysler Group LLC eclipsed their previous 2014 best (May) and reached a twelve-year August high and marked the 53rd consecutive month of year-over-year growth and climbed to the highest sales level since May 2007, when 199,393 vehicles were sold by Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeep brands.

During no month in a 62-month span beginning in January 2008 did the Chrysler Group ever sell more than 190,000 vehicles in a single month.

Yet in August, the Chrysler Group’s rate of improvement would have looked better if Fiat was excluded from the picture, not unlike your older brother’s interloping girlfriend at the tense immediate-family-only photo session on the beach last summer.

With Fiat? Chrysler Group LLC sales rose 19.8%, a 32,827-unit jump. Without Fiat? Chrysler Group LLC sales rose 20.9%, a 33,655-unit increase.

This is a small difference, and it was a difference created in part by a knee airbag recall situation that led Fiat 500L sales to slow to a crawl: only 33 were sold in August, down from a monthly average of 1340 units over the previous five months. Sales of the core 500 model actually increased in August, rising 12% to 3329 units, the first YOY increase for the 500 since May of last year.

If all we intended to discuss was a unique situation which led to an atypical decrease at Fiat, there really wouldn’t be a discussion. But it’s becoming increasingly clear that Fiat’s actual car lineup isn’t about to become a major player in the U.S. market or, more precisely, in the Chrysler family, not in America. August wasn’t an irregular month on that front; it’s a trend that’s been steadily taking hold.

In the second half of 2011, the Fiat brand accounted for 2.7% of Chrysler Group LLC volume in the United States. That figure held in 2012 but fell to 2.4% in 2013 even with a new model contributing more than 7000 extra sales. By July, the number had fallen to 2.3% (and 1.7% in August) despite expansion in the brand’s lineup.

Whether you believe Fiat was the saviour in the FCA conglomerate or you figure the Italian (formerly?) automaker was handed the keys to a safe that would eventually fill up with cash, the vehicles powering the Chrysler Group right now aren’t cute, little cars which cater to a cross-section of the market that demands fuel efficiency in this unstable world. 21% of the company’s August sales were derived from the Fiat brand, Dodge Dart, Jeep Cherokee, Ram ProMaster, and the Chrysler 200.

Lacking necessary outside investment and a partner willing to take a plunge in what was a time of great upheaval, Chrysler could have quickly faded away had this sea-change of a relationship not formed five years ago.

Yet 61% of Chrysler Group’s August volume was generated by the Ram truck lineup, two minivans, the Jeep Wrangler and Grand Cherokee, and Dodge’s Journey and Durango, up only slightly from a 58% share in calendar year 2009. The more things change…

Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures.

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56 Comments on “Chrysler Group’s August Sales Look Better Without Fiat...”


  • avatar
    Vulpine

    For all that the Fiat brand seems weak, they’re still fighting a decades-old reputation in a country that hasn’t seen the brand for 40 years. Honestly, if Fiat were really that bad do you think they would still be in business at all?

    Fiat was in desperate need of new ideas; new designs that borrow from the old classics but bring them into the modern driving environment. Where I live I see quite a few Fiat 500s–only a small portion of which are Abarth models and at least around here almost zero of the 500Ls. For all that America is about “bigger is better”, the bigger Fiat 500 doesn’t seem to be going anywhere around here.

    However, the next model due out here in the US has surprised me. Personally I LIKE the Jeep Renegade and think it’s going to be quite popular. On the other hand, the Latitude model of the Renegade will be almost identical to the Fiat 500X in all but appearance, and my wife has fallen in love with the Fiat. I think the only reason we’ll be buying the Renegade instead is because the 500X isn’t due to hit the showrooms until a few months later and we can’t afford to wait that much longer. We would have traded before now except that nothing else available really appeals to her and she WON’T go for another full-sized (or even these large mid-sized) pickup truck; the one we have scares her to death when she drives it. I’m almost willing to bet that unless the Strada hits US shores within about 5 years, we’ll be driving a Renegade AND a 500X when we trade off our other rig.

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    Fiat is the family dog returning from the pet cemetery. They were buried years ago for good reasons.

    • 0 avatar
      scuzimi

      I have a 2012 500 Abarth or “family Dog” as you called it. I have 26K on the OD and it’s been nearly flawless! One warranty issue in all that time and a remapping of the ECU for more power by FCA. Th one warranty item… the battery heat protection blanket, twice.

      I guess my biggest gripe would be poor MPG (26) but if I left the SPORT button off that might help and the rather HARD leather seats.

      I owned 3 MINI Coopers (S) since 2002. Loved them but after 2006 not a car I wanted, too BMW-ized. In 2012 I ordered my Abarth, took 3 months, and though I was a tad let down those first few months in it’s handling, compared to the MINI’s, after the Abarth Drivers Experience I learned how to drive it, I’ve never looked back.

      My MINI’s had blown engines, cracked leather seats, total 6 cracked windscreens, bad rear shock mounts, something called the “Stumble” at launch in the 2002, bad trans in the 2003. All these things, some within 20K were a pain in the ass to get MINI to fix. My 2004 was a pretty good car though the engine went at 20K.

      Let’s remember the Mini Classic was a failure right around the same time as the Fix It Again Tony thing was happening.

      I think the 500 L would do better in Europe as they seem to like homely, IE… Multi Pla. The Countryman owns that bracket here in the USA and I don’t think FCA’s design team is very good. Thanks to Frank Stephenson the 500 looks great but I fear what’s ahead without him.

      I live in Pasadena Ca, I’m seeing more and more 500’s and about 20% are Abarth’s.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        My uncle went from a VW GTI VR6 through a Mini Cooper S to an Abarth. The clutch failed and the car was ruined by the dealer in the process of replacing it. They notched a structural component of the unibody to access a bolt. Fiat wound up buying it back and now he has a new GTI. Hopefully you’ll have better luck, but if you cared about quality or engineering you’d have a Japanese car by now anyway.

        • 0 avatar
          scuzimi

          That’s a pretty lame suggestion. Our only Honda was a POS, dealer was the worst. The only Japanese vehicle I ever cared for was my ’97 4Runner. It was a great vehicle.

          I will agree that dealing with the Fiat Dealership has had it’s us and down and that some of the “italian” thinking on the 500 is a bit too Italian but other than having to take the car to a crappy Chrysler dealership for an oil change where they dinged my door and had a non manual shifter fellow try and deliver my car, my experience with the car has been way better than any MINI I ever owned.

          I bought a Golf for one of my daughters and that car sucked bigger than even my crappy Ford Aerostar. Both of which we got rid of it with the years time.

          So what I’m saying is there’s good and bad in every car brand.

          Typical rude internet poster… i said nothing rude about you and you responded in a rude manner???

          BTW my wife drive an A4, it’s been a great car.

      • 0 avatar
        GeneralMalaise

        I echo your great experience, as I have a ’12 Abarth bought new in May of ’12, have just shy of 25k trouble-free miles. One of the best new car ownership experiences I’ve had. Absolutely love the car. Also drive an ’81 X1/9 that now has 199K miles and runs like a scalded cat. Although I like the quality of materials used on VWs and their models, I would NEVER buy one, have too many friends and co-workers who have had bad experiences over the last 7 or 8 years. To each his own.

  • avatar

    What a boat anchor of a store to have. At least a Suzuki or Mitsubishi store had Ally or MMCA to hang paper on anyone who could fog glass.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Flybrian, what’s your take on the Phaeton from the dealer perspective?

      We had an interesting discussion yesterday, you input would be valuable.

      • 0 avatar

        My armchair opinion on the Phaeton is that – like all specialty cars similar to it – it offers little return for all the investment required, investment like the special training for sales consultants, the service techs, stocking parts, offering over and above concierge services akin to what $60k+ buyers are used to, and not loading up your floorplan with unsellable paperweights.

        At least in my locale (West Central Florida/Tampa Bay), I’ve always had good interaction with VW dealers – granted, I deal predominately with the service/parts department and the used car managers. There has been some turnover in who owns what VW points around here since the last Phaeton graced our bountiful shores, so it depends on which location you’re talking about.

        As a dealer, I would ask what this all means for me. I don’t see the big return. A VW store does have experience dealing with a little bit more of a premium clientele and certain a more educated buyer (esp with GTIs and Diesels) and they can sell a premium-priced car to the fanatical (Toureg), but is there enough of a market for a luxury car with a plebian badge? I just don’t see it. And for the ones that buy one, I see it as a hassle when things constantly break and they keep bemoaning the better service and better lounge experience they got with their Mercedes.

        I would want a $28-40k 3-row crossover instead.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    “Yet 61% of Chrysler Group’s August volume was generated by the Ram truck lineup, two minivans, the Jeep Wrangler and Grand Cherokee, and Dodge’s Journey and Durango, up only slightly from a 58% share in calendar year 2009.”

    I am ignorant of Journey, but otherwise those are Chrysler’s “good products” so I’m not surprised. The only “good” one missing is the LX platform.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    At this point, FIAT offers essentially two different vehicles in the US. (The L is a larger car than the others.) There isn’t much to it, really.

    I suspect that the original intent was to turn FIAT into the main US brand, but that the idea was shelved early on as Marchionne went through a few machinations about what to do.

    Now that the goal for the Chrysler brand has gone from being near-luxury (which was always a bad idea) to mainstream (good idea), the notion of FIAT becoming anything more than a niche must be dead.

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      I’ve never understood the point of Fiat… it is basically just the 500 and versions of it. And the only reason to buy a 500 is its cute. The other versions are ugly. You can’t based a dealership on ONE car. Mini has the same problem but they are always attached to BMW dealers which elevates their status somewhat. At this point Porsche has a wider ranger of vehicles then Fiat or Mini does.

      I have nothing against niche market cars, but the idea of building a network of dealerships or thinking this will prop up sales at the parent company is silly.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        As I noted, my suspicion is that the original goal was to turn FIAT into the main US brand, while marginalizing or possibly killing off Dodge, then slotting Chrysler above it. (Again, this is a suspicion — this was never stated on the record and I can’t prove it.) However, this idea got punted pretty quickly, but not until after the process of building the dealer network had already been started.

        So by default, that leaves FIAT being a sort of Italian version of MINI. It was supposed to be something more than that, and the dealerships that were betting on something more have paid for it, literally.

        What I am suggesting is that the original goal of the Chrysler acquisition was to save the FIAT brand, but that the goal of making the entire company work soon took precedence over saving one Italian brand. At this point, North America seems to be the driver for the business, and growing the FIAT marque for the sake of it has become less important.

      • 0 avatar
        heavy handle

        Are there any standalone Fiat dealers in the US? I’ve only seen Fiat shops that are part of Chrysler/Dodge/Ram/Jeep dealerships. They may have a separate showroom, but they’re in the same back lot and use the same service bays.

        • 0 avatar
          Pch101

          There are some standalone stores. The original plan was for all of the Fiat stores to be on their own, but Chrysler relented.

          “Factory figures shown to dealers indicate that only about 45 percent of Fiat dealerships are profitable. But many of these share some expenses with Chrysler Group dealerships, meaning even fewer would be profitable if treated as stand-alone businesses.”

          http://www.autonews.com/article/20131007/RETAIL07/310079959/dealers-fume-as-fiats-u.s.-comeback-stalls

          Not exactly going as planned.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Why not fold Fiat in the US if they won’t make a serious go at it?

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            For the brand to provide critical mass for the dealers, it needs to have more product.

            But it takes time and money to develop product, and there are shortages of both of those. The priorities are elsewhere, but they probably need to be for the sake of the mothership.

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            It’s not often that I agree with Pch101, but this time I do. Unlike Microsoft, Fiat’s not going to give up on a product or market after only a couple years. With upcoming models–especially the 500X due in the spring–they’re introducing an all-new platform shared with the Renegade that is experiencing a surprising amount of interest in my region. While I admit I’m not the greatest fan of its CUV looks, the Renegade shares the underpinnings and I AM a fan of where the Renegade is going. Fiat may end up remaining essentially a niche market car here in the states–the niche being more urban than suburban–but Fiat BUILT cars under the Chrysler, jeep, Ram and Dodge brands might do surprisingly well. At least the Cherokee is.

          • 0 avatar
            heavy handle

            So they wouldn’t be profitable as stand-alone businesses, but none of them are, so you’ve just wasted my time by asking me to read the first part of this paragraph?

            They wouldn’t be profitable if they were located in active volcanoes either, so let’s speculate about that.

            They only got one Fiat dealer to agree with their premise in that (old) article, and it’s the one dealer who obviously doesn’t get Fiat. He’s running his Fiat franchise out of a used car lot, and he complains that it isn’t bringing-in customers!

            There’s four Fiat dealers in my town. One serves espresso, keeps Fiat in a separate, clean and tidy area, hires salespeople who look like they’ve actually read a book before. They’ve got most of the market. One dealer sells Fiat right next to their used car trailer, and I’ve never seen one of their stickers on a Fiat. I can guess which one has enough spare time to take a call from Autonews…

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            Great, another guy who is better at typing than he is at reading or thinking.

            Some of the stores are standalone, some aren’t. Some. Not all. Not none. More than zero percent, less than 100%.

            The majority of those stores don’t make a profit. The numbers would look even worse if the stores that aren’t standalone had their FIAT operations accounted for separately.

          • 0 avatar
            heavy handle

            PCH,

            I’m not sure you understand what standalone means. If the dealership is in a separate building, but it still shares the lot, service bays and back office with a Jeep/Ram/Dodge shop, it’s not standalone.

            The article you linked to (and which is a year old) speculated as to how profitable Fiats shop would be if they didn’t share all that overhead with established franchises, but that’s not the business so why waste time speculating.

            The only dealer they quoted sounded like he was still trying to sell Volares and Valiants. He doesn’t understand his market, and he’s complaining that it’s the market’s fault.
            I have no sympathy for that, because Fiat’s doing well overall (as the article above shows). The 500 wasn’t a flash in the pan, it’s still moving as many units as ever, and those units are turning over at $5-10k more than what Chevy gets for a Sonic.
            Think about that for a minute. I’ll bet you the 500 is cheaper to build than the Sonic.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            Some of the dealerships are standalone, others aren’t. You do grasp that there are numbers between 0% and 100%, right?

            As noted, the majority are not profitable. That means that some of the stores are profitable, but more of them are not.

            As I already suggested, the needs of the OEM and the dealer are not necessarily aligned. It is possible for the brand to be modestly successful for the automaker, while it is simultaneously a loser for many of the retailers. And that seems to be the case here.

          • 0 avatar
            heavy handle

            PCH,

            Go back and read the article. It never said that Fiat franchises were standalone. It says that some Fiat franchises wouldn’t be profitable if they were, speculatively.
            The one example they used was some guy trying to sell Fiats out of a used car lot next to the “previously enjoyed” Caravans and Neons.

            That guy obviously doesn’t understand why the upper-middle-class crowd that buys Fiats won’t buy them from his used car lot. That’s his problem. The article tries to extrapolate from what the Plymouth salesman said, but they don’t provide any facts to back it up.

            To my eyes, it’s just one salesman who doesn’t understand that the market has moved on, and that he can’t keep doing stuff just because it worked 20 years ago. It’s something you see all the time in retail.

            In the meanwhile, sales figures show that Fiat is moving decent numbers. Those sales come from other franchisees who understand their market better.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            Again, I have to cope with people who lack basic reading skills.

            Let’s go back to the quote from the article, shall we?

            “Factory figures shown to dealers indicate that only about 45 percent of Fiat dealerships are profitable. But many of these share some expenses with Chrysler Group dealerships, meaning even fewer would be profitable if treated as stand-alone businesses.”

            Notice: “But many of these share some expenses with Chrysler Group dealerships…”

            Many. Many means “not all.” Many means “some, but not others.”

            In any case, if you spend some time Googling instead of expecting me to do all of the work for you, then you would know that Marchionne specifically wanted standalone stores, and that was initially how the franchises were allocated. But the plans were changed later. As a result, some of the stores are standalone but others are not.

            Here’s one more link: http://wardsauto.com/dealerships/does-fiat-really-need-stand-alone-stores If you want to know more, than go look it up yourself.

          • 0 avatar
            heavy handle

            PCH,

            You do very well reading things at the first level, but not so much when it comes to looking deeper.

            The article is about some Fiat franchises who aren’t successful, but the brand is doing well overall. The question is how do you reconcile those two points. The answer is right in the article: they interview a dealer who is doing absolutely everything wrong, but just can’t see it (even though he spells it out). That specific dealer needs to either re-think his business, or get out of the Fiat game.
            That’s just free enterprise. There are no road maps for new ventures.
            They could just as easily have called a dealer who is doing well and asked him/her what they are doing right. There’s obviously quite a few that are; all those sales have to come from somewhere.

            I’m surprised that you’ve never previously encountered the “we’re not making any profit” whine. Consider this: no Hollywood movie ever makes a profit, there’s always a small loss declared to satisfy the IRS. That doesn’t mean that no one is making money (which is what you would think if you just read things at the first level).

            If things were really as bad as some claim, wouldn’t you see lots of dealerships closing, and thus much fewer sales? Hasn’t happened.
            Quite the opposite. Sales are up.

            Ram and Jeep sales are rising even faster, but good dealers realize that the industry is cyclical. You can’t expect pickup sales to grow by double digits for ever, and you have to be ready for when they contract.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            The Automotive News article states that a majority of the stores don’t make money.

            When you finally figure out that this is a bad thing for those who lose the money, then get back to me.

          • 0 avatar
            th009

            @Vulpine, it’s not a new platform. 500X/Renegade are on the same CUSW platform as the 500L.

        • 0 avatar
          Vulpine

          There is a single, standalone Fiat dealer where I live. While they’re associated with a Chrysler/Jeep dealership, they are more than a half-mile away from said dealership and standing at the entry end of our city’s “new car row” of dealerships.

          • 0 avatar
            nrd515

            The stand alone one here is across the street from the Chrysler/Jeep/Dodge/Ram store and is like a ghost town compared to the main store, or the Subaru delaership, owned by the same owners.

      • 0 avatar
        scuzimi

        I love my Abarth. It’s fairly quick and agile. Been a great car compared to my 3 MINI’s. I was hoping that Sergio would place Alpha dealerships or combine the cars in one dealership but I guess no one knows what’s really going to happen.

        Loved my 2002, 2003, 2004 MINI’s but they had so many problems. Now they are over BMW’d for my taste.

        Go drive an Abarth.

      • 0 avatar
        GeneralMalaise

        Sold my ’07 350Z and replaced it with the Abarth. Not one regret.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      I wouldn’t put much money on that thought, Pch; you’ve been wrong before. I do agree that they LOOK like they’re following Mini’s roadmap, but at about 1/3rd less the price, which should work rather well for them once they become a little more visible on the road.

      • 0 avatar
        heavy handle

        The are following Mini’s roadmap: they are selling a basic sub-compact for $5k more than GM, Ford, Hyundai or Toyota can get.

        And people are gladly paying it because it’s still a cheap car, and it’s worth extra to drive a good-looking, fun-to-drive car.

        Honestly, I’m surprised how much market traction the 500 has had. Fashion cars usually die-off after the second year, but the 500 is still doing very well.

        The 500L is a dud. Probably not a bad car for the price, but too weird looking. I think they sent it to the US just because it was ready and they wanted a second car to sell. Only trouble is, the US wasn’t ready for the 500L.

        The new 500X will be key. It looks good, and it’s in a hot segment. It could be a winner, in which case the Fiat brand is here to stay.

  • avatar
    vent-L-8

    The business in which Fiat was given Chrysler still rubs me the wrong way. The only reason Fiat was in the financial position it was at the time was due to GM having just given them a bunch of money to get out of their failing partnership.

    It seems clear to me that Fiat is not capable of standing on its own and only exists because of the RAM and Jeeps profits. They were (several times) in the right place at the right time.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      I feel exactly the same way, and Fiat was directly given $1.3 billion in addition to the free company IIRC. In a way Fiat was bailed out by the American taxpayer twice (once directly, once indirectly through the failed GM partnership).

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      Marchionne saved Chrysler. That level of management talent was needed, and you can count the number of other people who could have done it on your fingers.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        I have to agree the results were probably much more successful than anticipated and Sergio and his team should be commended. Still it cost the US gov’t more than a billion dollars. One could look at it as a billion plus well spent, as opposed billions wasted on everything else the past ten years -and I would agree- but Fiat as a private foreign corporation made out *very* well.

        • 0 avatar
          Pch101

          Bailouts aren’t free. (Chrysler couldn’t have survived without one of those, either.) The company needed good management and recapitalization, which it got as a result.

          The alternative wasn’t free, either. It’s not as ignoring Chrysler would have cost zero. Don’t assume that the comparison is billions versus zero.

      • 0 avatar
        Lorenzo

        But their all-time best sales, 198,379 vehicles, still hasn’t topped May 2007, when 199,393 vehicles were sold under Cerberus! And they were selling Calibers and Sebrings! That means “minimum” Bob Nardelli is an even bigger genius than Sergio Marchionne, doesn’t it?

  • avatar
    seanx37

    But how many of those sales were due to the absurdly low lease deals they are offering now? My brother just got a very loaded 300 lease for less than $250 a month(yes, he gets the Chrysler employee pricing). Is Fiat actually making a profit? Total sales don’t matter a damn.

  • avatar
    stingray65

    Fiat has become a niche brand in Europe as well. They have nothing beyond the 500 that sells with any volume across Europe. The 500L has tried to ride the coattails but is just too ugly and has not done well, and the larger models have been withdrawn or sell in tiny volumes. Alfa and Lancia are also dead men walking. The only bright spots are Ferrari and US Chrysler/Dodge/Ram – without the US profits mostly from big RAM pickups, Fiat would be bankrupt today. Fiat didn’t save Chrysler, it was the other way around.

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      The Fiat brand has just under 5% market share in Europe. In a market crowded with brands, that can’t be considered a niche.

      Strong? no. But not exactly a niche, either.

      • 0 avatar
        stingray65

        Less than 5% and 99% in the mass-market brand small car (i.e. 500 sized) market where there are no profits – this is a niche and they are in big trouble if RAM pickup sales start slowing down.

      • 0 avatar
        th009

        In Europe, but outside of Italy, it’s in the 2-3% range. That’s pretty niche — as is the product range.

        10 years of starving the product pipeline (Marchionne took over in 2004) does that to you.

    • 0 avatar
      automaniak

      Don’t forget Maserati.
      Don’t tell us about Fiat after a couple of years no investing in brand in Europe. Let’s talk 2016.
      Don’t tell us about Alfa – as above. Plus Alfa new concept to be based on Maserati DNA.

  • avatar
    petezeiss

    Bring over the Qubo and scarf up all the Soul buyers.

    BTW, how ’bout a Qubo review?

  • avatar
    oldyak

    I am glad there is a Fiat presence in the U.S.
    And the small volume speaks well for those who are tired of seeing the ‘same old thing’ on the road.

  • avatar
    nrd515

    But honestly, doesn’t ANYTHING look better without a Fiat? In the case of the 500, I would say, “HELL YES!”.

  • avatar
    turboprius

    I find it hilarious that people (myself included) thought the new 200 wasn’t going to be a fleet special like the old one. Guess what? Almost all of the 2015 200s I’ve seen have that Enterprise sticker on the driver’s window. Same with the 2015 Tahoe.

  • avatar
    GeneralMalaise

    My first new car purchase was a 1974 Fiat X1/9. I owned the car for 6 years, put nearly 100K miles on it and only needed spec’d maintenance to run virtually trouble-free. I am happy to have the opportunity to buy new Fiats in the U.S. and will be looking to purchase a 4C Alfa in 2 to 3 years.

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