Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne is still on a quest to merge with General Motors, and seems to be the only one who thinks it’s a good idea. GM has no interest in such a merger, so I don’t see how it can actually happen. But if it did, what then? The two current competitors have a great deal of overlap in their current lineups. How would they make a merger work without adding a Department Of Redundancy Department, Repetition Division?
In my vivid imagination, I went down to the toy store and bought two Lego sets, General Motors and Fiat Chrysler. Then I imagined myself as the hypothetical head of GM / Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (call it GMFCA, just so I don’t have to keep typing the full name), and how I would take these Lego sets and combine them into one super set of cars and parts.
Trim The Fat
Ironically, I’d say the Chrysler brand itself should be the first to go. Mercedes tried to save them and gave up, leaving behind pseudo-Mercedes styling and parts with German complexity and sub-par build quality. A few years ago I had a Chrysler Sebring rental car when visiting DC for a few days. That car looked cool on the outside, almost like the mini-Merc it was intended to be. The interior appeared fancy as well, until you realized that it was made of low quality hard plastics far below the standards of German luxury. When I drove it, it didn’t take me long to realize that it was the same crummy old Sebring drivetrain under the skin. All Chrysler had done was put lipstick on a pig. I realize that the Chrysler 200 that replaced the Sebring is a better quality car, especially heading into its second generation. But I think the public perception is that Chryslers are still lower quality rental cars, and that’s an image the new GMFCA doesn’t need.
Maybe drop the Fiat brand in the US as well. Too many people remember the name as an acronym for “Fix It Again, Tony” from their last venture here. Plus, their specialty is small cars, which are unpopular in the US. Certainly keep the Fiat 500 in its various forms alive and well elsewhere in the world.
On the GM side, although Buick is not a popular brand in America, it’s very popular in China. So keep Buick as the friendly face for that market, and Opel/Vauxhall in Europe, but drop it in America.
Between Chevy, GMC, and Ram, GMFCA has three truck brands. That’s two more than necessary. The new kid on the block, Ram, should go away. Dodge has a long history of building trucks before Ram was split off into FCA’s truck brand, but it’s usually brought up the rear among the Big Three. I’ve never understood why Chevy and GMC sell the same trucks under different names. Some insist that they’re completely different, but I simply can’t tell. It’s like insisting that the Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ are completely different cars. Yes, suspension tuning and option packages are different, but they’re fundamentally the same. So drop the GMC clones of Chevy pickups, and have them focus strictly on heavy duty commercial vehicles. Though there’s still nothing wrong with slapping a GMC badge on a heavy duty flatbed truck based on a Chevy pickup, or a large box truck based on a Chevy van. Acknowledging their common roots instead of denying it would be a strength, not a weakness.
Lean And Mean
Take what’s left, and make it awesome. Jeep is doing a great deal to keep FCA going at the moment. They’re doing it right, so keep doing what they’re doing. They’re a distinct enough brand from Chevy trucks that there isn’t much overlap in their lineups. Plus Jeep is an image brand as much as the brand for the serious off-roader.
Dodge also needs to stick around. Until recently they shared Chrysler’s image of low quality rental cars, but the Charger and Challenger have changed all that, even before the 707hp Hellcat models came along. The Dart hasn’t seen much success, but turning it into a 3/4 scale version of the Charger could turn that around, especially with rear wheel drive like its namesake. If the Dart became 90% of a BMW 2 Series for half the price, I’d be extremely interested. Add R/T and ACR versions, plus racing support like Dodge did for the Neon in the 1990s, and it could be a real winner. They should focus on cars like these, sporty yet affordable for the everyman. This keeps it distinct from Chevy, which would focus more on comfortable, non-enthusiast side of the equation.
But what about the Camaro and Corvette? Some people have said for years that Corvette could or should be spun off from Chevrolet as its own brand. I say go for it. The current Corvette model becomes the Stingray under the Corvette brand, and takes aim at the best sports cars the world has to offer. Watch out, Porsche 911 – we’re coming for you. The Camaro slides into this brand as well, moving upmarket and becoming a more serious sports car rather than a pony car. Some improvements from the Dodge side may be in order as well. Imagine a Camaro Hellcat, or a Stingray Hellcat. I’m not sure what to do with the Viper, which competed directly against the Corvette. It may not make the cut, and go away as many other well loved Dodge and Plymouth performance cars have. Or, rather than focusing on world class performance like the Stingray, it would become a more old school hot rod, with lots of power and radical looks, but maybe not the overall supercar package that the Stingray would become. If the Corvette brand doesn’t want to be associated with this image, maybe the Viper could remain a Dodge, as a low production halo car for the American muscle brand.
That leaves Cadillac, which has made huge improvements over the past ten years as a luxury brand, and Alfa Romeo, which is also reinventing itself lately with cars like the 4C and the upcoming Giulia. I think there’s room for both brands to exist side-by-side in GMFCA. Cadillac will focus more on the American idea of a top of the line luxury car. Yes, that idea has morphed into a more European perspective, but cars like the CTS and ATS are nailing it, and the luxury SUVs are quite profitable. Alfa, on the other hand, remains the true European sports car in the case of the 4C, and sport sedan in the case of the Giulia. The brand name is worth a great deal here, clearly defining what makes Alfa different from Cadillac, even though they may eventually share some parts under the skin. Each appeals to a different enough demographic of the luxury vs. performance spectrum for both to exist.
Chevrolet: Good basic cars, trucks, and crossover/SUVs for everyone.
Dodge: Sporty affordable American style muscle cars.
Buick/Opel/Vauxhall/Fiat: Asian and European cars for those particular markets. Not sold in America.
Jeep: SUVs and off road vehicles, same as now.
Cadillac: American style luxury cars and SUVs, focused more on luxury than performance.
Alfa Romeo: European style luxury cars and crossovers, focused more on performance than luxury.
Corvette: World class sports cars, with the Stingray, Camaro, and maybe a Viper. This is GMFCA’s halo brand.
That’s a lot of different brands, but GMFCA is a huge company. There may be some overlap here and there, but that’s never stopped GM, Chrysler, or Fiat before. There is enough variety here that pretty much whatever you want, GMFCA has it.
I’m not saying that Sergio Marchionne is right. Such a merger would be a huge help to FCA. But GM is doing quite well on their own, and doing it right. Well, except for that Chevy/GMC truck thing – that’s just silly.
(Top photo credit: Yahoo! Autos)