Fiat and Chrysler are partnering more and more around the world. And the more problematic an area that Fiat's main market, Europe, becomes — while Chrysler continues to tear up the U.S. market — the more likely it is that we'll see still more transatlantic cooperation.
Two of the latest moves reflect the reality of how the fortunes of the two companies have shifted significantly since Fiat helped the U.S. government bail out Chrysler in 2009. One of these is that Fiat is getting closer to re-launching its Alfa Romeo brand in the United States. The other is that Chrysler is boosting output of its Jeep Wrangler in the U.S., a model that is one of Chrysler's best-selling exports.
Make no mistake: Wranglers are selling at a brisk pace Stateside, where the 71-year-old model set an all-time sales record in May; year-to-date sales were up 34 percent. "We're on track to have our best month ever [in the U.S.] for Wrangler in June," Reid Bigland, Chrysler Group's sales chief, told Automotive News.
Chrysler-Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne said months ago that the automaker also was going to use Wrangler and the Jeep Grand Cherokee to lead its fledgling push to sell more vehicles abroad. So Chrysler boosted equipment levels in Wrangler and is in the midst of a $500-million expansion of the Toledo Assembly Complex, promising to hire an extra 1,100 workers within the next year and a half.
Meanwhile, Fiat is getting closer to finally bringing the Alfa Romeo brand back to to the U.S. market for the first time since a poor quality rep led it to pull out in 1995.
Marchionne this week committed to bringing back the brand — more upscale and boasting larger vehicles than the Fiat marque — in "early 2013," which observers caught wind of via the automaker's Alfa Romeo 4C concept car U.S. trademark application. And Chrysler itself will begin building, in a Detroit factory, a Maserati SUV.
But among others, Chrysler dealers are itching to broaden their lineups of vehicles supplied by their European partner. The dozens who have constructed separate showrooms to house Fiat's brands so far have only the Fiat 500 variants to display, and they are counting on Alfa Romeo vehicles to round out those spaces, Jason Stoicevich, director of Chrysler's California business center, told brandchannel.
Marchionne and his lieutenants on both sides of the Atlantic have achieved much in just three years, confounding most expectations. But the Fiat-Chrysler marriage is far from optimized just yet.