Who Will Build Sergio's Next Dodge Dart and Chrysler 200?

Mark Stevenson
by Mark Stevenson

FCA’s sweater-in-chief Sergio Marchionne has a plan to turn around the debt-laden and ailing automaker: stop building cars that lose money. That sounds like common sense, so long as oil prices stay low and the demand for trucks, SUVs and crossovers remains high.

But that plan introduces a new set of problems, chief among them the fact that ditching the car market leaves FCA exceptionally exposed to future volatility in oil prices. Crude prices affect prices at the pump, which affects the demand for certain types of vehicles. Sergio is betting oil prices will stay low by focusing on vehicles with ever-increasing price tags and ever-growing gas tanks.

Still, there will always be some demand for small cars. It was true in 1950 and it is true today. So what will Mr. Sweater do to meet that demand? Simple: he’ll buy those vehicles from another automaker and badge engineer them the old-fashioned way.

Sergio’s plan comes with considerable risk, but the rewards are just as substantial. That doesn’t mean he won’t find a way to hedge his bet somehow. After all, the Italian-American automaker is the least likely of all to be able to weather a mild recession, next to Tesla, and its reliance on Canada — FCA was the top automaker in Canada in 2015 — could backfire thanks to that country’s mild recession.

So, who will build those insurance-policy cars for FCA? And where? Here are the contenders.

Mazda


The “little automaker that could” is chugging independently along post-Detroit ownership, and it’s not afraid to work with others even if that means ceding segments to some of its competitors. Case in point: the Mazda2 — or the Scion iA, or Toyota Yaris Sedan, depending on whether you live in Mexico, the United States or Canada. All three cars are built at Mazda’s brand new Mazda de Mexico Vehicle Operation in Salamanca, Mexico, along with the Mazda3 (the Mazda2-based CX-3 is manufactured in Japan).

It’s no secret that small and midsize car volume isn’t growing as quickly as that of crossovers and SUVs. The Mazda3 has also been thought of as more performance oriented than the Dodge Dart. And the Mazda6 isn’t half bad either. Could that make Mazda a legitimate contender for Sergio’s dollars?

Renault-Nissan and Daimler


Are Sergio’s chances with Renault-Nissan still Ghosn on? Or are they Ghosn like German management escaping an Auburn Hills C-suite?

The FCA of today is far from resembling the Chrysler of many yesterdays past. The management in Auburn Hills is different and could provide the basis for some interesting dialog between Dieter Zetsche and Sergio Marchionne. However, Mercedes-Benz’s small and midsize products are geared more toward premium products — a description not uttered in Dodge-Chrysler-Jeep-Ram showrooms much over the last decade.

There is, however, some real opportunity with Renault-Nissan. Ghosn is no stranger to making projects work with other automakers, nor is he a stranger to smashing together two wholly different companies and making them kiss like a Mike Tyson meme. Renault Samsung Motors, an 80.1-percent owned subsidiary of Renault, even has a new position recently vacated by Mitsubishi. The ailing Japanese automaker had planned to source sedans from Renault Samsung, but those plans are kaput.

It may be relevant that Chrysler and Nissan have dated before — even recently. Nissan had planned to source trucks from Chrysler’s Ram brand before simply poaching Ram’s main man.

China


With the upcoming Buick Envision and the already-here Volvo S60L, the cherry has been popped on Chinese automotive imports. And it isn’t like Chrysler hasn’t flirted with the idea of building a small car with a Chinese automaker in the past.

Chery and Chrysler ended their joint project to build small cars for U.S. consumption in 2008, prior to Fiat’s takeover of Chrysler. Could they come back to the table again and bring Chinese cars to FCA dealer lots?

Who else?


There are other automakers out there that would love to take Sergio’s money, no doubt, but the above options seem most likely.

What do you think? Who else would be willing to prostitute its own vehicles for American customers?

Mark Stevenson
Mark Stevenson

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  • Jeff S Jeff S on Feb 02, 2016

    The Chinese or even India's Tata would be could candidates to take over FCA. Chrysler has an extensive network of dealerships throughout the US and Canada. This would be good for a company like Geely or Tata and would give them a foothold in the North American market. There are only so many times that the Government can rescue Chrysler. The same is true if GM gets into anymore financial trouble. We do not need to be bailing out any more automobile corporations and we should not be financially propping up any corporation.

  • Eliminator Eliminator on Feb 03, 2016

    That’s a shame but looks like it’s Dodge’s euthanasia For Chrysler brand it’s not much better Fiat did the same with Lancia and Alfa in Europe long ago: few new (or no) products, badge engineering, poor quality control, too much dependency on one market (Italy) They really have “the” recepy how to kill a brand BTW they probably think car brands are like toothpaste brands RIP Dodge RIP Chrysler RIP Lancia RIP Alfa Romeo Great automobiles of the past

  • VoGhost Fantastic work by Honda design. When I first saw the pictures, I thought "Is that a second gen Acura NSX?"
  • V16 2025 VW GLI...or 2025 Honda Civic SI? Same target audience, similar price points. Both are rays of sun in the gray world of SUV'S.
  • FreedMike Said this before and I'll say it again: I'm not that exercised about this whole "pay for a subscription" thing, as long as the deal's reasonable. And here's how you make it reasonable: offer it a monthly charge. Let's say that adaptive headlights are a $500 option on this vehicle, and the subscription is $15 a month, or $540 over a three year lease. So you try the feature for a month, and if you like it, you keep it; if you don't, then you discontinue it, like a Netflix subscription. In any case, you didn't get charged $500 up front the feature. That's not a bad deal.In my case, let's say VW offers an over the air chip reflash that gives me another 25 hp. The total price of the upgrade is $1,000 (which is what a reflash would cost you in the aftermarket). If they offered me a one time monthly subscription for $50 to try it out, I'd take it. In other words, maybe the news isn't all bad.
  • 2ACL A good car, but - at least in this configuration -not one that should command a premium. Its qualities just aren't as enduring as those of Honda's contemporary sports cars. For better or worse, this is a formula they remain able to replicate.
  • Jalop1991 I just read that Tesla's profits are WAY down "as the electric vehicle company has faced both more EV competition from established automakers and a slowing of overall EV sales growth." This Cadillac wouldn't help Tesla at all, but the slowing market of EV sales overall means this should be a halo/boutique car. Regardless, yes, they should make it.
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