By on April 28, 2018

Candid as always, Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne let off some steam during a first-quarter earnings call this week. The chief executive, due to retire early next year, revealed the launch of the next-generation 2019 Ram 1500 was not the smoothest process in the world, with the company taking on additional costs to get the pickup out the door.

Despite these troubles, the Ram 1500’s launch is nothing compared to the debut of the Maserati Levante SUV in 2017, which hit the market with a whimper. That launch straight up “sucked,” Marchionne said.

The content of the earnings call, reported by Motor Trend, is classic Marchionne, who channelled his inner Roger Murtaugh when discussing the goings-on at the retooled Sterling Heights plant. The higher-capacity plant, repurposed for 2019 Ram production, required an extra $300 million to get the truck ready on time. Still, not every configuration was available come the on-sale date.

Marchionne said the plant is “running at 60 percent of cycle today which is not where we need to be. We allowed enough time in 2017 to get that installation up, but it’s proven to be challenging.”

Anyone entertaining ideas of Marchionne showing up with a sleeping bag to oversee operations on the plant floor had best think again. “I’m too old for that crap,” he said, referring to Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s practice of camping out in times of production crisis.

While FCA works to get the Sterling Heights plant up to speed, the Warren plant continues to churn out the previous-gen model, and will so for at least the next year. Tooling and development costs have long since been paid off, making the old-style 1500 a comforting profit generator. It also satisfies buyers looking for a lower-cost full-sizer.

As for the Levante, a vehicle not exactly at the forefront of any car enthusiasts’ mind, Marchionne likes itm, but detests the manner in which it entered the market. FCA dropped the ball on that one, he admits.

“Very poor execution,” he said. “I think we sucked at the launch of the Levante.”

Since its debut, Tim Kuniskis took over as head of Maserati and Alfa Romeo, leaving a formerly overburdened Reid Bigland to focus on North American sales. FCA’s head honcho feels it’s a good fit. As former head of the Dodge brand, Kuniskis oversaw the buildup to the launch of the Challenger SRT Demon, and Marchionne thinks much of that same enthusiasm can be mustered for the 590 horsepower Levante Trofeo unveiled at this year’s New York auto show. That variant goes on sale this fall.

After first appearing on U.S. sales charts in August of 2016, the Levante’s monthly volume quickly flatlined. Its best sales month in the United States was December 2016.

[Image: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles]

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29 Comments on “Marchionne: 2019 Ram Production Is a Headache, Levante Launch ‘Sucked’...”

  • avatar

    The organizational ability is supposed to be the major strength of the major manufacturers. If FCA can’t get the production line straight, and turn out a quality product during the height of consumer interest, they have a big failure of the biggest profit potential.
    As far as the Levante, these things sell to the high end market based upon novelty. FCA has lost a good year of sales on the Levante. Even here in Los Angeles, they are a rarity. What’s next, a $299/month lease to goose sales numbers?? No one who I know that went for the Ghibli is lining up to get a Maserati SUV.

  • avatar

    I honestly forgot the Levante existed, and can not currently remember what it even looks like (other than standard Maserati styling cues like the grille).

  • avatar

    I think the main problem here is that the Levante and Stelvio launched and were marketed simultaneously, and in most crossover-averse enthusiast and potential customer’s minds, two goofy Italian crossovers can easily get mixed up, and I feel like the Stelvio won out by virtue of being more affordable and better looking, and having the performance variant available at launch.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    Sergio shouldn’t worry.

    I truly believe the new Ram will replace the Silverado as the 2nd biggest selling pickup.

    It looks great and will sell itself.

    I hope the interior has kept in front of GM and Ford.

    It would be nice to have a 6spd manual 5.7 and diesel.

    • 0 avatar

      Not going to happen. RAM already has an inventory glut. It’s only going to get worse.

      • 0 avatar

        John Davis at Motorweek gave the 2019 RAM a great review on the pre-production model they tested.

        Trouble is, GM is also coming out with an updated 2019 version of their truck, and RAM is pretentious in trying to sell a $60k+ Limited 4×4 1500 pickup truck. No half-tonner is worth that kind of money, no matter how fancy, and only a fool would pay that.

        If an individual was considering only a GM or RAM truck, the 5.7L RAM with its better ride and handling, better interior and supersized MaxCab would be better than any 5.3L GM half-tonner.

        • 0 avatar
          John Horner

          How is it that a vehicle with a 2,100 lb. payload capacity and 12,000 lb. tow rating is called a “half-toner”?

          For those who forgot what they should have learned in high school, a US ton is 2,000 lbs. Thus a half-ton in 1,000 lbs.

          Today’s base full size trucks should be called one-ton trucks.

          But hey, we seem to love living in a post-fact era :(.

          • 0 avatar

            John Horner, the classifications for weight class were set by the DOT decades ago and remain today.

            It is primarily based on chassis-frame gauge, suspension, flex and gusseting determining load capacity. So, a half-ton rated Tundra is basically a 3/4-ton-rated Hino frame with a Tundra body on it – pretty robust.

            When the class determination was made, a half-ton pickup truck like the F150 basically used a passenger car frame and suspension like that of a Crown Victoria, which was often used to tow a camper trailer or haul a load.

            Although trucks are much more robust today because of improved metallurgy, the class-definition of 1/2-ton, 3/4-ton, 1-ton, ton-and-a-half, deuce-and-a-half, and 5-ton remain.

        • 0 avatar

          Only a fool would buy a pickup to take the kids to school and do grocery runs too, but here we are.

          • 0 avatar

            Many families can only afford ONE vehicle and the four-door pickup truck is the ONE vehicle that can be everything to everyone.

            Even a grocery-getter and mom’s taxi.

          • 0 avatar

            Only a food would buy a 7 passenger vehicle with 300 horse power and a 4750lb curb weight to carry 2 adult and 2.3 mini humans around and do grocery runs to, but here we are.

            See how sensible things are not that sensible once you look at the numbers?

            I’m talking about a Toyota Sienna, in case anyone was still think about a pickup.

        • 0 avatar

          When Fred Diaz was the head of Ram, he basically said that he had no price ceiling for pickup trucks. More buyers are paying more money for trucks with luxury-brand levels of equipment. ATP for the F-150 is up more than $3,000 over the last year, and it’s also the reason you have the $100,000 F-450 Limited.

          Say it’s foolish all you want, but there is clearly demand for high-end big rigs.

      • 0 avatar
        Big Al from Oz

        Yes that is now, not two years away. I don’t know if you are old enough to remember Ram started from a low base 6-7 years ago and it gradually improved.

        I’d say this new Ram will do the same. The new Rams advantage is it looks really good, not like the F150 which looks like an apprentice folded the metal in straight lines, or the next Silverado which has a front end that looks like it belongs in a kitchen next to the microwave.

      • 0 avatar

        thats for the previous year model I think.

  • avatar

    1) take the RAM
    2) transplant the heart of the Levante
    3) add Maserati badge
    4) flip off Lincoln

    this isn’t rocket science…

  • avatar

    I still think if you take away the RAM name off the grill of the 2019 RAM, what you get is an early 20’s GMC pickup grill…

    • 0 avatar

      I think that the Rebel grille resembles something you’d find on a late 50s/early 60s GMC/Chevrolet. In fact, it would be more fitting for a “commemorative edition” GMC.

      I want Dodge and the crosshair grille back. The 2019s aren’t bad looking though. I wouldn’t buy one because of the eTorque — it just seems like a potential vector for problems.

  • avatar

    Here’s to hoping for $299 leases!

  • avatar

    How is this guy still a CEO…. seems like he bad mouths FCA’s offerings every chance he gets.

    • 0 avatar
      John Horner

      Some people still appreciate a CEO who tells the truth at least some of the time.

    • 0 avatar
      el scotto

      He’s a placeholder CEO. The Agnellis still own/run FIAT thru their holding company. John Elkann (sic) is last Agnelli male her who isn’t a train wreck. Ole Sergio’s job was to keep the ship sailing until an Agnelli took control again.

      • 0 avatar

        I guess sportyaccordy likes a Bagdad Bob type personality for his company’s CEO.

      • 0 avatar

        I believe Marchionne’s mandate was to find a buyer/partner for Fiat so the Agnelli’s could rid themselves of the capital-intensive, low-margin, cyclical business of cars, and especially get the family off the hook for whatever happens to Fiat in Italy.

        The Agnelli family now resides all over Europe and America (Elkann was born in NYC), and has parted out the Fiat conglomerate, taking cash and keeping some stock, but no management responsibility for the separate pieces. The auto core named Fiat is the last piece to offload, and Sergio has been unable to do it.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    Chrysler used to be known for its engineering prowess. Then there was the “merger” with Daimler. Then Cerebus’ less than benign ownership. Then Chrysler was given to FIAT. Ole Sergio backs up a dumptruck to the money machine that is Jeep, perpetual Bronze Winner RAM, and large V-8 RWD sedans that continue to sell. No real updates needed on any of Chrysler’s products; just more dumptruck loads of cash to corporate. Enough cash to make Jeep/RAM/Dodge/Chrysler look good to a Chinese company.

    • 0 avatar

      With Sergio retiring early next year, no one really knows what is in store for Fiatsler.

      They’ve got some hits on their hands, like the JGC and RAM, sell every one of the specialty supercars/supertrucks they make, but the future still looks cloudy, with a chance of meatballs.

      Now, selling to a Chinese or India company always remains a viable option because that’s where the money is. America can always import them, like we do with JLR, Volvo and Buick.

      Wish the same would happen for GM, sell to a Chinese or India company that is.

      Ford is the ONLY American car maker left and they need to sell what buyers want.

  • avatar

    >Marchionne: 2019 Ram Production Is a Headache, Levante Launch ‘Sucked’

    FCA’s motto: Dodge testing – RAM it into production.

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