By on January 16, 2019

“When I look at the new Imperial,” Chrysler Corporation chairman Lee Iacocca said in 1980, “I see an electronic marvel.”

He may have been reaching.

“We understand the speed with which we have to act,” Chrysler Group CEO Bob Nardelli said in mid-2008, months before Chrysler’s collapse showed that whatever understanding there was did not find itself successfully implemented.

More recently, however, in Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ recap of its brands’ 2018 U.S. sales performance, the company’s own take on the Chrysler marque’s results was stunningly honest. “Overall,” FCA said in its press release, “the brand has seen some softening during the year following the continued wind-down of the Chrysler 200 and the Town & Country.”

Ya don’t say.

2018 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid front quarterChrysler’s abandonment of its namesake brand has not been a wholesale Abraham/Hagar desertion. As recently as 2016, FCA offered Chrysler meaningful sustenance in the form of the Chrysler Pacifica. Whilst the Dodge brand didn’t merit any minivan favor and was (and is) left to battle with the antiquated Grand Caravan, the Chrysler brand received an all-new minivan platform.

Indeed, the stylish Pacifica managed to increase its sales tally by a wide margin in 2017, not unexpectedly, and then by a statistically inconsequential margin in 2018.

But 2016 was the very same year that Chrysler killed off its best seller, the 200, as the brand’s poorly executed midsize sedan – by the company boss’s own admission – could only be sold in high volumes with excessive incentivization or at extraordinarily low volumes with decreased incentives. It was destined to be unprofitable in either case.

The result, in 2017, was a Chrysler brand that reported its lowest U.S. sales since the 2009 turmoil. The result, in 2018, was a Chrysler brand that reported even worse output. Only 165,964 Chrysler-branded vehicles were sold in the United States in 2018, a 12-percent year-over-year drop that FCA refers to as “some softening.”

The Pacifica produced 7 out of every 10 Chrysler sales in 2018, leaving most of the remainder for the aged 300, a full-size sedan lingering in a markedly anti-full-size sedan market.

And that’s it. That’s all Chrysler has. There’s no compact crossover to challenge the Toyota RAV4. There’s no subcompact crossover to battle Mazda CX-3s and Buick Encores. Chrysler wasn’t the brand to introduce the Telluride at NAIAS 2019 – that was Kia. Would Chrysler be the brand to produce a uniquely American Volkswagen Arteon? Apparently not.It’s not as though Chrysler is America’s Alfa Romeo, a brand with virtually no experience as a full-line auto brand. Chrysler’s mainstream status is recent. In 2005, Chrysler owned 4 percent of the U.S. market with a six-vehicle family: Crossfire sports coupe, Sebring midsize sedan, 300 full-size sedan, three-row Pacifica crossover, Town & Country minivan, and the PT Cruiser, a loathe-it-if-you-must design icon.

From that 2005 strong point, Chrysler’s situation fell apart. Sales are 74 percent lower now than they were in 2005, having declined in 8 of the last 13 years. In fact, Chrysler volume has fallen by nearly half since 2015, and the brand’s market share is now below 1 percent.

Of course, the real story lies not in the fact that Chrysler sales are falling. Sales are bound to decline when a lineup is decimated.

No, the real story is that the “softening” shows no signs of, well, hardening. Chrysler, as Larry Vellequette wrote in May 2018, “isn’t weak because consumers abandoned it.”

“It’s weak because FCA did.”

This isn’t the story of, say, Lincoln, where a resurgent Navigator and a stunning Aviator lend credence to the notion of a strengthened position in the luxury market.

This isn’t the story of Cadillac, where a gradual (China-based) global sales ascent is fuelled by XT-badged crossovers, the likes of which are completely absent in the Chrysler lineup.

Indeed, this isn’t the story of tiny Mazda, which is diving headlong into a partnership with Toyota for U.S. production of its fourth utility vehicle.

This is the story of Chrysler, which may produce an electric van, and could become known as a “people mover” brand, in the words of the late Sergio Marchionne.

It all closely resembles the end of a story.

[Images: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles]

Timothy Cain is a contributing analyst at The Truth About Cars and Driving.ca and the founder and former editor of GoodCarBadCar.net. Follow on Twitter @timcaincars and Instagram.

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55 Comments on “‘The Brand Has Seen Some Softening,’ Is One of the Most Accurate Statements Chrysler Has Ever Made About Chrysler...”


  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    Just kill the brand already. I knew it was a mistake to make the new minivan a Chrysler instead of a Dodge. Chrysler doesn’t stand for what it used to, so just end it.

    Also, points for quoting “Minimum Bob” Nardelli.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    The mind just reels with the possibilites of what could have been. Imagine, if you will, if the 200 were launched as a midsize 2 and LWB 3 row crossover. 300 moved to the Giorgio platform. Something EV related and futuristic. They have all the pieces to do good things with the brand… who is in charge?

    • 0 avatar

      Italians. They do not give sh*t about Chrysler. They care more about Alfa, Maserati and FIAT – that’s for you sporty, luxury and mainstream brands. They do not even care about Lancia. Why they should care about resurrecting American brands? There is no sentimental value in American brands for Italians. Even Eaton did not care about Chrysler.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    I am old enough to remember when the Chrysler name had some prestige.

    When it was unveiled, the Cordoba, although it competed with PLCs badged as Pontiacs and Chevrolets (and Buick and Olds), and Fords, had more initial prestige than those vehicles with ‘lesser badges’. As an aside the Olds Cutlass was the top selling vehicle in North America for at least one model year in the mid 1970’s.

  • avatar
    ajla

    Chrysler is Buick if China, Opel, and Daewoo didn’t exist.

    Killing the brand seems like the way to go. Any car is better as a Dodge and any utility is better as a Jeep/Ram. They just have to Dodge-ify the Pacifica.

  • avatar
    deanst

    Chrysler is just a placeholder until the next sale of the firm. Some analyst can look back at historical market share and proclaim the brand is worth billions if they just get to half that. Hopes are raised, money is earned, and everyone is happy. Rinse and repeat.

  • avatar
    seth1065

    F A does not give a crap about Chrysler and it shows, would anyone not but the Town and country/ Pacifica minivan if it was a dodge ? I guess it must be cheaper for them to wait out the stand alone Chrysler dealers and let them die vs closing them down. I can kinda of see the 300 , milk it for all it is worth and let it die only when forced to by safety standards or some other outside factor. There is no reason for the brand to exits and there is no reason for F A to have managed the brand this way, would a Chinese company come in and buy the brand from FA, they could not do any worse with it.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      Makes sense.

      I think they’ve already said that the 300 won’t survive another generation. They only need one full-size, and the Charger sells better.

      • 0 avatar

        If they made 300 luxury car margins would be higher than Dodge. Otherwise it does not make sense. The thing is that 300 is an icon – it is sad to see how that merger of equals ended up. If Chrysler was independent and right people were at the helm… Ford was able to turn things around in 80s and even after 2008. I do not see why Chrysler would not be able to do the same – it did well in 90s. Ford and GM actually feared Chrysler because of its innovative designs like LH and cloud cars. If they took engineering and quality as seriously as design thing might be different today.

    • 0 avatar
      Peter Gazis

      seth1065

      Stand alone Chrysler dealerships?

    • 0 avatar
      jeoff

      It’s just criminal what foreigners have done with the Chrysler brand. Someone should investigate the CEO of FCA and throw him in jail—then charge him (don’t really care what for)—and throw him in jail again—he can just rot until he confesses to something—we neeed to get someone as CEO that understands what Chrysler is as an AMERICAN institution! /S

      https://www.wsj.com/articles/ghosn-in-wonderland-11546992812?mod=searchresults&page=1&pos=12

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Standalone Chrysler dealers? I haven’t seen one of those since…ever.

      Seriously, how would they even stay in business?

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    What, the new-for-2019 Brand Savior three-row CUV isn’t coming? Say it ain’t so.

    Chrysler’s softer than a 110-year-old guy who got cut off from Viagra. The only reason it still exists is probably (fading) name brand recognition among American consumers. Let it die already.

    • 0 avatar
      zamoti

      The recognition isn’t even all that good. When I hear Chrysler I can only come up with the image of a Sebring and the middle-manager loser connotation that comes with it. When the best known owner of your car is Michael Scott, that’s pretty sad.
      Honestly I hadn’t realized that the 300 is a Chrysler and not a Dodge.

      After all those years of poor quality and non-performance, the name does not carry an image that is at all desirable any more. As much as I dislike seeing American brands die away, I don’t see what else can be done with this. Back when Plymouth was still a brand, I don’t think anyone cared when it got taken out to the woodshed. I don’t think anyone will care when Chrysler disappears either.

  • avatar
    Steve203

    I keep seeing speculation of a Chrysler SUV. Why? Jeep is the core SUV brand. Since the bankruptcy, most FCA dealers have Dodge, Chrysler and Jeep under the same roof, so why have a Chrysler SUV that parallels a Jeep SUV? Same thing wrt the Durango. The Durango is effectively a 3 row Grand Cherokee. With an actual 3 row GC on the way, there is no reason to have the Durango in the same showroom.

    So the future FCA showroom with have IC and electric versions of the Pacifica for Chrysler, the Charger and Challenger pavement rippers for Dodge, and half a dozen different Jeep SUVs.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      Some people don’t want Jeeps. I don’t. A 200 crossover would be more space and fuel efficient than a JGC and roomier + better looking than a Cherokee. Durango has healthy sales; would be stupid to cancel it. 3 row JGC would only add to that, especially with more upmarket positioning. No different than Toyota selling a RAV4, Highlander, UX, NX, RX and RX-L. If there’s demand, fill it via as many channels as possible.

  • avatar
    jfk-usaf

    Make products that speak to the market and make sure that they rise above the competition in some way, market them aggressively and above all (esp in the case of FCA) make sure that there is some aspect of quality in your design and materials ….

  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    I would not call that statement anywhere near accurate, it is seriously looking at the Chrysler brand through rose colored glasses, though certainly not as dark of a tint as the use when looking at the Fiat brand.

  • avatar

    I feel like the Chrysler brand has been in continual trouble since even before the debut of that 1980 Imperial.

    There was that speculation that there would be a new 300/Charger/Challenger based upon the Giulia platform, but I haven’t heard that one in a while. Does it even make sense to bother? I suppose for fleet sales it does, and it would be a smaller and more modern car (that 300 is OLD, man).

    But I think there needs to be some consolidation between brands at Dodge and Chrysler. There doesn’t seem to be much point in keeping the Chrysler brand around for the Pacifica and 300. It has little brand equity, and nothing to distinguish it from Dodge except for a badge.

    Perhaps make all of them Dodge, or all of them Chrysler, or do some sort of Chrysler-Dodge badging for a while on the Charger.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      “There was that speculation that there would be a new 300/Charger/Challenger based upon the Giulia platform, but I haven’t heard that one in a while. Does it even make sense to bother? I suppose for fleet sales it does, and it would be a smaller and more modern car (that 300 is OLD, man).”

      Size-wise I’m guessing that it would be Kia Stinger like in dimensions, which would be a bit pointless for the 300. I agree with one of things Jack Baruth wrote for one of his other gigs about the problem with American Luxury Cars is that they’re not BIG ENOUGH. Stretch them out to 1975 proportions and then they might have presence.

      A Stinger/G70 sized Charger would make me want to call it “Barracuda” for some reason.

      • 0 avatar

        I’m not sure they can get the Giulia platform to be all things to Charger and Challenger and 300. I suspect the loser there might be Challenger.

        Even the CT6 is barely big enough, though it is competitive with the other big boy RWD luxury things.

    • 0 avatar
      bullnuke

      Corey – I’d argue that Chrysler has been in decline a lot longer. They started losing ground in the 1950’s when their then – CEO determined that, despite the other two of the “Big Three”, Chrysler vehicles would remain tall and boxy so a gentleman could drive one without removing his hat. Then when finally redesigned their cars were poorly assembled finished – on a quiet day, my uncle’s brand new ’57 Plymouth could be heard corroding into dust. They were known for engineering (torsion bar suspension, AirTemp, the Hemi, TorqFlite, but these advances were installed in vehicles seen as lower quality efforts. They have continuously revived from near death over the years (the near deaths due to what I see is historically poor corporate governance) but resurrected time and again with niche vehicles that had short shelf lives. I’ve been tempted to purchase a Chrysler corporation vehicle over my very limited adult life (from 1951 to the current date) but shied away when remembering both my experience and the experiences of my peers. Perhaps it is finally time that Chrysler and even Dodge take a dirt nap. Wait, I did buy a new Chrysler product once, in ’85, and kept it for a couple years. Alas, it was a Dodge Colt Vista (Mitsubishi Chariot) but a pretty decent car.

    • 0 avatar

      Sergio said that Giulia platform does not fit Dodge well because cannot handle required amounts of torque and hp and Dodge is a muscle car why Alfa is more refined. So idea was to modernize and develop LX platform instead.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    “has seen some softening…”

    That’s what she said.

  • avatar
    danio3834

    Throughout most of its history, the Chrysler brand has had a slim lineup of less than a handful of models. Part of Sergio’s mission was to eliminate badgeneering and duplication of efforts. With Dodge, Jeep, Ram etc. sharing showroom space and corporate resources, it doesn’t cost much to keep the brand around.

    That being said, there’s a lot of potential for the brand. Ideas for Chrysler branded products are constantly on the table, but the company has been running very lean and spending in key areas that are sure bets, like Jeep and Ram. We may still see some of the on/off projects of the last few years come to fruition for the brand, though.

    • 0 avatar
      deanst

      Thanks for some sanity. FCA has limited resources….would people expect them to defer a profitable Jeep or ram to target the highly coveted passenger car or coupe market with a Chrysler?

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      I was logging in to say something similar to deanst; why would FCA ramp up a whole line up of Dodge and Chrysler branded SUVs? These may or may not have an audience willing to purchase them, so let’s cancel our money makers and speculate?

      I applaud FCA for sticking to the one-store plan that was implemented before FCA was an entity. GM and to a lesser extent, Ford are stuck in the old model of selling. There was much talk 10 years ago about GM turning dealerships into GM Stores, featuring all GM brands, not just one. Too bad they haven’t been able to implement it here in the US, I suspect these stores would be doing rather well.

      I would wish that FCA would get away from releasing information (5 year plans) that aren’t realistic or capable of executing due to market conditions. I’ve been sorely disappointed with some things I’ve seen and heard about specific models, but they have never come to pass (Chrysler 100, cough cough).

      But, they’re printing money by the basket load with Jeeps and Chargers, let ’em go to it. I wish the other domestic car companies would be so bold.

    • 0 avatar
      Peter Gazis

      danio3834

      Agreed
      I think the author was only bashing Chrysler so he could spread some B.S. about Mazda under the radar.
      Truth is the Factory in Alabama isn’t due to open for 2 1/2 more years. Meanwhile sales of the Mazda 3, 6 & Miata are falling, and the CX5 is the only crossover that sells in volume.

  • avatar
    GrayOne

    Why would the brand do anything other than decline when it’s only two cars now?

    You can’t have a car brand with two cars.

  • avatar
    GrayOne

    Why would the brand do anything other than decline when it’s only two cars now?

    You can’t have a car brand with two cars.

  • avatar
    teddyc73

    I am a long time Chrysler customer and would have continued to be had I been given some products to choose from. Neither the 300 (still a beautiful car) or the Pacifica (hands down best minivan) are the type of vehicle I need. I did at least stay with FCA but I really wished I still had a Chrysler.

  • avatar
    George B

    Can FCA make a Jeep minivan and charge more for it than a Chrysler minivan?

  • avatar
    PartyUpLive

    I think they would have had better success if they would have made the Pacifica the new Dodge Grand Caravan instead.

    • 0 avatar

      Grand Caravan and Town & Country for the upscale Pacifica version. I think the T&C name has value – more than Pacifica. Don’t use the Pacifica name at all, and brand them both as Dodge vehicles.

    • 0 avatar

      Minivan does not fit to Dodge’s image well. Dodge’s image is an American style muscle car, always was. Brutal, raw power. Chrysler was a maker of big full size premium cars. So premium minivan fits Chrysler better. And who cares – Lancia is the one model brand and being subcompact in that. Levante is over priced with Chrysler sourced switch-gear and plastics all around. Why not make Chrysler SUV with decontented version of the platform. Chrysler does not need to handle as well as Mazerati. Just put Hemi there.

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    Given the organizational tear-ups this outfit has had over the last two decades, I have to give them serious props for staying alive and cranking out some pretty decent Jeeps and trucks.

  • avatar
    Keith Tomas

    Good riddance, I say. They have been the automotive equivalent of a courtesan or high-priced call girl – the highest bidder gets the spoils. And I do mean spoils. Let them die…

  • avatar
    WallMeerkat

    Maybe FCA need to look at VW group for how to manage many brands

    SEAT and Skoda nip at the feet of VW, which encroaches upon Audi, then the luxo brands of Lamborghini, Porsche and Bentley.

    Maybe given the relative failure of Alfa Romeo to make inroads, they should regrille and rebadge them as Chrysler. (They did this for Lancia in the UK/Ireland – for a while you could buy a Chrysler Delta – and the opposite in continental Europe when they rebadged Chryslers as Lancia – 300 as Thema)

  • avatar
    CanadaCraig

    Only a fool would believe that the Chrysler brand should be killed. The 300 is still selling well. Better in 2018 than in many years. To think of the Chrysler name as main-stream or basic transportation is ridiculous. No one who knows anything about cars considers the Chrysler brand as being below Dodge. FCA is in a position define ‘Chrysler’ any way they like. The opportunity exists to create an American flagship brand.

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