Posted by Dale Buss on November 10, 2009 09:42 AM
Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne dropped a two-inch thick binder on attendees at his briefing on the future of the Chrysler Group at the American company’s headquarters in suburban Detroit – his newly hatched five-year plan. But the plan Marchionne unveiled for Chrysler didn’t impress dealers, analysts and journalists who attended as anything near a foregone conclusion.
Many want to give Marchionne the benefit of the doubt about a long-term “brand roadmap” that foresees new Fiat-designed cars taking over the Chrysler fleet beginning in 2012. The problem is: How does Chrysler get from here to there? Drawing paths in the dirt?
The $23-billion investment plan unveiled last week calls for the introduction of 21 new vehicles, beginning in a few years, including several small cars in segments where Chrysler doesn’t now compete. Given the rising importance of fuel economy to the industry’s product plans, especially for a government-subsidized entity like Chrysler, this is no small matter.
But what does Chrysler do to paper over its threadbare product line until 2012? At this point in the U.S. auto-sales meltdown, Chrysler has distinguished itself – even from fellow federally propped automaker General Motors – as the only OEM that hasn’t boosted sales at least somewhat lately.
The answer is: not much. Chrysler will try to work brand miracles, mainly with slightly rehashed versions of its current vehicles – the ones that already aren’t selling. Chrysler plans to introduce new versions of its Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger sedans, each of which enjoyed a day in the sun over the past few years, as well as the venerable Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Caravan minivans, and the Jeep Grand Cherokee SUV. Other models will get mild upgrades.
Savvy marketing could be expected to help Chrysler and its various brands in the meantime, but so far such expectations look unreasonable.
Dodge, for example – which has made its milk money over the decades building rugged trucks and inexpensive cars – now is spinning off its pickups into a separate Ram brand. And as for the cars, Fiat hopes to reposition them as refined vehicles, and without necessarily targeting young buyers, according to Ralph Gilles, new president and CEO of the Dodge brand.
Talk about betraying a brand’s DNA.