By on January 21, 2020

Chrysler has certainly changed since emerging from the ashes of the Maxwell Motor Company in 1925, spending the better part of the 20th century purveying all manner of car to the American public. The current century has seen the company merge with Daimler, followed by Fiat. Now it’s cozying up to PSA Group, leaving many to wonder what purpose Chrysler serves beyond being the corporate namesake.

Officially, the merger isn’t supposed to impact any FCA or PSA brands. But the Chrysler brand isn’t exactly a model of industrial health. Its current lineup consists of four vehicles, one of which (Voyager) is just the lower-trim version of the non-hybrid Pacifica. The minivan sales are enviable, comprising over half of all vehicles sold within the segment for the United States last year — if you incorporate the Dodge Caravan — but Chrysler’s overall trajectory leaves much to be desired. 

Here’s how FCA envisioned things — each auto brand would cater to a specific section of the market to provide complete coverage. But market realities put too much pressure on some of them.

Fiat’s penchant for small cars made it a novelty when it landed in the U.S. market, and it garnered some extra attention from those seeking a small car in the wake of the Great Recession. Unfortunately, Americans had already begun shifting toward larger crossover vehicles. The brand’s U.S. deliveries peaked at 46,121 units in 2014. By 2018 Fiat couldn’t even sell 16,000 — despite moving nearly 700,000 vehicles in Europe that same year.

Chrysler’s path, while a little different, is similarly bleak. Immediately before the recession, the brand could reliably sell about 500,000 cars inside the U.S. each year. By 2018, that figure had dwindled to just 165,964 units, mainly the result of minivans falling completely out of fashion.

The Detroit News claims this doesn’t bode well for the brand, regardless of what factory executives say. The FCA-PSA merger will result in an entity with 13 individual brands, which is more than any other global automaker. It’s going to be tough to manage, especially if PSA is interested in shipping French product our way.

Tim Kuniskis, FCA’s head of passenger cars, told the outlet that minivans could be enough. “No one has ever asked if we’re going to stop selling muscle cars,” he said, adding that the United States buys more minivans overall. Yet minivans aren’t typically passion purchases, meaning Chrysler’s current trajectory should still raise an eyebrow or two. In 2019, brand sales fell by 23 percent vs a one percent sales decline for FCA as a whole. Minivans hung in tougher than the 300 sedan, which saw a 37 percent decline against 2018, but Pacifica sales still dropped by 17 percent (the Voyager was new for 2019).

“This is a division that doesn’t seem to represent a vibrant, healthy product line,” said Karl Brauer, executive publisher for Cox Automotive. “It doesn’t seem to have a bright future. I think for most people under the age of 40, they don’t have much awareness or affinity for that brand.”

Considering PSA’s desire to make a move on the North American market, and Chrysler’s presumed anonymity to people under 40, there’s a fair chance that Chrysler will be used for selling Peugeot (and maybe Citroën/DS) vehicles on our side of the ocean.

From The Detroit News:

Last week, PSA said the CEOs for the Citroën and DS brands were moving into new roles to focus on brand positioning, differentiation and cost savings. PSA matches each of its brands with a competitor whose results it aims to beat, [PSA spokesman Bertrand Blaise] said.

“We have Citroën, which is the people-minded brand,” he said. “Peugeot is the high-end mainstream brand. DS Automobiles is a premium brand with a French flair. Opel is the true German brand, and Vauxhall is a brand for the British. We want to maximize our brand positionings within the group portfolio … [PSA CEO Carlos Tavares] always says, ‘Every brand has its own chance.'”

One bright spot for Chrysler is the number of manufacturers who have abandoned the minivan altogether. Most domestic brand snubbed them long ago to prioritize crossover vehicles, leaving a handful of Asian brands and the Pentastar to fight over a fairly small corner of the auto market they don’t really need to share. “From a company standpoint, there are only four players,” Kuniskis explained. “It’s a good place to be … you’re competing on innovation and having the best product in the marketplace.”

In that respect, Pacifica really is a cut above. But there’s nothing to suggest customers will ever come running back into the minivan’s roomy embrace, even if it feels smarter to hedge your bets. Still, Chrysler could be onto something. Asian manufacturers are beginning to corner the small car segment now that U.S. factories have stopped producing them. While that doesn’t seem to be making much of a difference at present, we’re one fuel crisis away from calling them all economic geniuses. If there’s another baby boom, perhaps minivans will once again grow in popularity.

Cox’s Brauer also suggested that the minivan could be the shape of the future. “The best shape for moving people around is a big box,” he said. “It’s not the coolest or sportiest, but it certainly is the most effective. We’re on the cusp of the minivan becoming a far more viable design for human transportation — just not for the personal buyer model.”

Chrysler already supplies Waymo with Pacifica models for its self-driving endeavors, so this isn’t as insane as it sounds. Of course, it also doesn’t help Chrysler in the short term. FCA is cutting a third shift at Windsor Assembly where its minivans are built. It also doesn’t typically set aside the same kind of development cash for the brand that it would for, say, Dodge or Jeep.

Frank Rhodes Jr., great-grandson of Walter P. Chrysler, told The Detroit News he sent a letter to PSA boss Carlos Tavares and French President Emmanuel Macron in November to request their aid in assuring Chrysler’s future as an American automotive brand. PSA stated that Tavares’ office had not received the letter.

“It deserves to survive,” Rhodes said. “Chrysler has done a lot for this country for almost 100 years. It needs to be preserved. It’s heritage, it’s pride, it’s part of Americana. We’re seeing more and more Americana go away. It’s a shame.”

[Image: Maryia_K/Shutterstock]

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54 Comments on “What’s to Become of Chrysler?...”


  • avatar
    thornmark

    Nice that they wasted all the Chrysler (Jeep and RAM) cash on Alfa and crap brand FIAT – but they made sure Italy’s richest family cashed out just fine

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      Yep, the Agnelli family holding company will finally wash its hands of Fiat by turning over ownership to a European conglomerate without being blamed in Italy for whatever happens to it. The stake will turn into stock that can be sold to finance better investments than the capital intensive, low margin auto business. The parting out of the huge Fiat industrial conglomerate will be complete.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    How sad to think that Chrysler could devolve into a mere re-badge of PSA cars.

    As for minivans, they offer too much utility to disappear. Of the 3 vehicles in my fleet right now, my 09 Sedona is the one I hope to part with last.

    • 0 avatar
      Right_Click_Refresh

      It is sad. I hope Ram and Jeep stay distinctly American because if they don’t and people realize they are driving French vehicles, they’ll tank as hard as Fiats did. This really feels like the last gasp for Chrysler. Maybe it just needs to be Ram/JeepCo at this point.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      In the past Chrysler had a pact with Simca, so these liaisons are not new to Chrysler.

    • 0 avatar
      WhatsMyNextCar

      It’s sadder to see Chrysler is what it is currently. The brand has 2 vehicles (let’s not pretend the Voyager is a model.) Both are aging, especially the sedan. The sedan’s in a dying segment. There isn’t anything in the Chrysler lineup to compete in THE segment – CUVs. And…Chysler, as a brand, is never sold by itself. They’re all CDJR lots in these parts. Chrysler won’t appear to be premium if it’s alongside Journeys and Promasters and Renegades.

      In short, Chrysler’s already a sad brand. It’s been a very long time since it was noteworthy.

    • 0 avatar
      The Ghost of Buckshot Jones

      Why? Outside of the 300c, what “Chrysler” badged vehicle can you think of fondly from the past 35 years?

      Hell. 40. 45 even.

  • avatar

    If Tavares is as sharp as I think he is, he will market Peugeot vehicles here as Chryslers.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Give me a Peugeot 508 wagon, call it Magnum if you like. As long as I can get to 60 in less than 7 sec and through the quarter in less than 15 sec, give it European handling – I’ll be happy.

  • avatar
    dwford

    Unfortunately, there just no brand equity left in the Chrysler brand name. The minivan could easily slide over to Dodge. There’s no way the company will make a real investment to revive Chrysler, and just rebadging some French cars is not going to do anything long term to revive the brand. Give up on it already. And kill Fiat also. That brand has no reason to exist either. Lastly, pawn off Alfa and Maserati on the next bunch of suckers – probably some Chinese company with more money than sense.

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      +1 some people still need minivans so just sell it at the Dodge store.

      PSA is not going to gel with Americans. Just because I’d love a Peugeot hot hatch the rest of the market has already spoken, they don’t want small fun things. See failing Fiat.

      Fiat should have never been a brand, just rebadge them as Dodges. I’ve never understood this everything-needs-to-be-a-brand thing anyway. The investment required to have a separate store to sell things by the same company just with a different logo is beyond crazy to me. I’m still trying to understand why RAM (not Ram apparently) isn’t a Dodge… the mind boggles.

      • 0 avatar
        Add Lightness

        +1
        When I walk into a glamourous car showroom I always wonder who is paying for this beautiful structure.
        I would prefer a petrohead salesperson in a plywood shack anytime.

  • avatar
    Oberkanone

    Chrysler needs merch….Peugot has merch
    Badging Peugot as Chrysler vehicles is a lifeline to a future.

  • avatar
    Oberkanone

    208
    308
    508
    Hatch, Sedan, Wagon, SUV
    Bring them all with a Chrysler badge, and make that badge the 1993 version.

    • 0 avatar
      Add Lightness

      208 from about 2013 was the best vehicle I ever leased in Europe.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      LOGIN TO REPLY
      LOGIN TO REPLY
      LOGIN TO REPLY

      Sheesh.

      Anyway, I doubt there would be a business case for bringing in any Peugeots except the 3008, 5008, and mmmaybe one version of the 308. Midsize cars like the 508 are failing in the US, and European minis and superminis are too expensive to build for profitable U.S. sales.

  • avatar
    Tstag

    In Europe courtesy of PSA we have:
    Peugeot
    Citroen
    DS
    Vauxhall/ Opel

    All of which can sell minivans in not massive numbers but enough that would keep Chrysler bosses happy to secure some more volume. Equally PSA would love to ship some of the above brands models to the US as Chrysler’s. To me Chrysler is perfectly viable, hell they might want to think about dusting off the Plymouth name to sell some rebadged cars.

    The brand that has a gun against its head is Lancia. But even there FCA/ PSA have a problem, Lancia May only make one car but it outsells all of Alfa’s models combined!

    As for Alfa the brands PSA will most want to buy now is JLR for what they could do to help Alfa. Trouble is JLR is having deep talks with BMW about a very deep alliance. If that comes off then Alfa could be in much bigger trouble.

  • avatar
    Peter Gazis

    Genesis, Mini, Fiat, Mitsubishi, Acura, Infiniti, Jaguar

    With so many Foreign brands near death, why are we Focusing on an American brand that has “4” very popular vehicles in their lineup?

    • 0 avatar
      deanst

      Because it actually has only 2 moderately popular vehicles – both in dying segments – in its lineup.

      • 0 avatar
        Peter Gazis

        Deanst

        IF “THE TRUTH ABOUT CARS” says Chrysler has 4 vehicles, Chrysler must have 4 vehicles. The rest of the world has been counting to 4 wrong.

        • 0 avatar
          N8iveVA

          If you want to count 3 versions of the same mini van 3 different models, then yeah. Along with the 300 there are 4 then. But let’s not kid ourselves.

        • 0 avatar
          Matt Posky

          Chrysler sells 4 “models” officially. But it’s just three flavors of the same van (hybrid, non-hybrid, cheap non-hybrid) and the 300 sedan. Any number between 2 and 4 seems valid, but all answers require clarification. I know that’s annoying but it’s not like this is the first time Chrysler has broken up van trims into their own models.

  • avatar
    namesakeone

    I think it’s telling that the Chrysler make does not have an SUV or CUV. Can anyone here name another that doesn’t?

    • 0 avatar
      APaGttH

      If Cadillac is a damaged brand to the near-luxury/luxury car buyers already, Chrysler isn’t even on the radar anymore.

      The dedicated MOPAR set will never buy a rebadged French vehicle and Chrysler has even less snob appeal that Cadillac.

      • 0 avatar
        Maymar

        Chrysler might be lower on the snob rung than Cadillac, but it should be in the ballpark of Buick, a handful of crossovers for someone who doesn’t want a Jeep could do decent business. Imagine a Fist 500X or Jeep Cherokee with the Pacifica’s front end and interior, and start stealing Encore/Envision sales.

    • 0 avatar

      Chrysler doesn’t have an S/CUV because FCA decided to invest in Jeep/Ram/Alfa at the expense of Chrysler/Dodge. PSA has plenty of vehicles/platforms that can be rebadged as Chryslers/Dodges. Tavares is a smart cookie and will use the Chrysler/Dodge badges instead of trying to foist the Peugeot/Citroen badges here, where they would play out like FIAT. He knows this.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    It will be far easier to sell high-trim versions of Peugeot CUVs, and possibly a stretched 5008, with a Chrysler or Dodge badge than to try to reintroduce the Peugeot badge in the US. The question is which badge gets them.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Dead brand walking.

    Pacifica to Dodge, Chrysler to the history books.

    Or Hell, give the Pacifica a one-inch lift, a 7-slot grille, and round headlights, call it a Jeep [???], raise the price $10K and roll in the profits.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    “Tim Kuniskis, FCA’s head of passenger cars, told the outlet that minivans could be enough. “No one has ever asked if we’re going to stop selling muscle cars,” he said”

    Someone hit a nerve for him to say that out loud to The Detroit News…

  • avatar

    Chrysler doesn’t have an S/CUV because FCA decided to invest in Jeep/Ram/Alfa at the expense of Chrysler/Dodge. PSA has plenty of vehicles/platforms that can be rebadged as Chryslers/Dodges. Tavares is a smart cookie and will use the Chrysler/Dodge badges instead of trying to foist the Peugeot/Citroen badges here, where they would play out like FIAT. He knows this.

  • avatar
    Whatnext

    How ironic that Chryler still offers one of the most distinctive cars on the road, even a decade and a half after it’s intro. I’m talking about the 300 which still has a swagger and style despite years of FCA neglect. Freshen it up again and give Chrylser a decent upscale Crossover or SUV to compete with Lincoln. Any more money flushed down Alfa and Fiat is wasted.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      As long as it continues to sell beyond the break-even point, they’re not going to throw money developing a new model.

      Ditto the Jeep Grand Cherokee, all new in 2010 with the 2011 MY, and still soldiering on for 2020, still selling well, still making money for Fiatsler, even with the huge discounts on the hood.

  • avatar
    Add Lightness

    The various DSs are just another fashion statement and not as useful as the Citroens they are based on. I have driven them over 30,000 km.
    Vauxhall is just a RHD Opel.
    I was hot for a PSA or Espace 5 speed diesel minivan that uses only 5.5 L/100 but by the time they hit the 15 year rule (Canada) I moved on. Our local Dodge dealer thrives on young men with good credit scores and puts them into stupidly optioned pickup trucks.
    Chryco/Fiat/PSA has become irrelevant to me.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Chrysler should just be allowed to die. Rebadging Peugeots and Citroens is not going to save the Chrysler or even the Dodge brand. Keep Jeep and Ram and don’t rebadge French vehicles and get rid of the Jeeps with Fiat components. Muscle cars won’t last in the long run and Dodge will be gone after that.

  • avatar
    Thomas Kreutzer

    Chrysler exists because it allows PSA to offer products that compete with the higher priced brands. I think this is especially true in the mini-van market where Toyota and Honda vans are “premium products.” If PSA wants to sell their vans to buyers in that segment, Dodge doesn’t cut it.

    Dodge is a value leader. Yes, you can tart them up and add options but that can’t erase the fact that the Dodge vans most people encounter always have velour seats, hard plastic and rubber floor mats. People in the premium segment, who rent Dodge vans vacation or climb in and out of them while attending conferences, would never even consider them when the time comes to spend their own money. The first impressions have already been made.

    To get those potential buyers come and look, you need something different. Something they haven’t encountered before. Something that never gets the mommy-mobile spec high-wear interior and never shows up at your hotel for a 4 AM airport run. That’s what Chrysler offers. It’s like this whole other brand. Maybe we should look at those, they seem nice…

    As for the foreign cars, let’s not forget the lesson of the Dart. People in different markets have different expectations. You can bring them and you slap on any badge you like but if they don’t fit the market or meet local expectations, they will be a disaster.

    If PSA is smart, they’d do what Chrysler did with Mitsubishi back in the day. Bring in good cars and offer them at low prices to get people hooked. Once we get to know them we might all decide that the modern-day Peugeots and Citroens are just great, but trying to bring them in as untested premium or even at-par brands isn’t going to draw people in.

  • avatar
    Mike Beranek

    All of these arguments go out the window if the price of oil skyrockets again. Jeep and Ram would see huge declines in sales (yes, it’s happened before, and it will happen again). Small CUVs that get 25 mpg in the real world will not cut it, so keeping small CARS in the mix could be key to survival.
    The idea that PSA’s cars are “French” if ridiculous. The global auto industry has homogenized over the last two decades and there is very little of the “national flavor” that cars used to have. American cars are not all low-mpg barges; Japanese cars are not all tiny econoboxes; German cars are not all autobahn-burners; and French cars are not all quirky and weird. Some, yes, but nowhere near all.

  • avatar
    Acd

    Ram became its own brand so FCA could kill off Dodge at some point and still have a healthy brand of trucks to sell. At some point the Chrysler brand will go the way of Plymouth and DeSoto and disappear.

  • avatar
    FThorn

    I see pros/cons. Evolving products over time with improvements can result in better quality. I think M-B flipped that and now their product cadence results in more flaws.

    If “Chrysler” can make money and be profitable only maintaining few cars, then good. “I’m sure if all your friends said hey let’s introduce new cars for no good reason, you’d go introduce new cars too!?” (Channeling everyone’s parents)

    I’ve had 4 “Chrysler” minivans; and three at ONE TIME. I believe the minivan is the precipice of vehicle utility. A minivan and a truck would be next. If you needed to work in some non-primary use; chose motorcycle/scooter &/OR Sportscar.

    Go to ALLPAR dot COM user forums if you want to understand their (Chrysler’s) market, audience.You don’t to agree.

    And as for the title photo here: Google PT Cruiser SavageGEESE to see the best car ever made video. That TOO might help you/one to understand these buyer’s psyche. Again, I have had MANY Dodge/Chrysler/FCA/DaimlerChrysler vehicles, and I have worked at a pre-merger AMC/JEEP dealership.

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    I have said it before…
    The only remaining Chrysler “product” in the future, will be NYC’s Chrysler building.

  • avatar
    Kendahl

    It’s a six passenger bus. But will it be traditional public transportation running on an inconvenient fixed route and schedule or will it be driverless Uber/Lyft, offering door to door service, that you order up with a phone app?

    What’s most obvious to me is that it’s urban-centric. I used to work with a guy who lived in farm country 30 miles outside the city. My wife and I recently moved to a neighborhood 15 miles from a mountain town of 11,000 in eastern Arizona. Nobody is going to run a bus route for us and the distance between customers would make Uber/Lyft unprofitable.

  • avatar
    tankinbeans

    I’m curious if they’ll be able to appeal to a younger audience as well. It was alluded to in earlier comments that nobody under 40 has much affinity for the brand. A couple years ago when I briefly drove a 300, at 28 years old, I was constantly asked why I had an old man’s car. It was as if people around couldn’t understand why a younger person would even be able to appreciate one, let alone drive it.

    At the time I was lusting after a Challenger, but it didn’t work financially. I drove the 300 and enjoyed it. Was big, brash, got decent fuel economy despite its Teutonic nature. I would drive another.

    The only thing that I had real problems with was the Panasonic sourced head-unit/central nervous system/brain of the car. Started having problems with it from the jump.

  • avatar
    jfk-usaf

    Make a good product, market it and people will come. Chrysler has been making crap products for a while now. Evaluate them however you want to. Cheap interiors, average performing mass market engines (their V6s that are in most products), bad transmissions (the 200) and a very out of date product line up. Its continued existence doesn’t make sense. I’d love to try / maybe even buy one of PSAs other brands. There is no current case for me to go into a Chrysler dealer for any reason and there hasn’t been for a long time.

  • avatar
    forward_look

    The minivan is the obvious form factor for an EV. Box with a motor, something Elon could dash out in an afternoon like his truck. Watch out, Chrysler. Lead, follow, or get out of the way.

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