Fiat Chrysler (FCA) is one of the rare automakers willing to discuss the details of its future product plans, typically covering a five year span of time. This past January FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne revealed that the company intended to make substantial changes to the most recent strategy announced for 2014-2018, a move that will change the face of several of its brands in the near term.
The biggest impact comes with the revelation that both Chrysler and Dodge will each be losing a member of their sedan line-up. Both the Chrysler 200 mid-size and the Dodge Dart compact will be phased out of showrooms over the course of the next 18 months due to what Marchionne perceives as a 'permanent shift' away from four-door cars in the United States in favor of sport-utility vehicles and crossovers. The assembly line capacity that was once devoted to these two models will be repurposed for building strong-selling Jeep models, as well as upcoming Dodge and Chrysler people movers.
It's an equation that's almost purely financial. Neither the 200 nor the Dart ever really found their audience, eclipsed by more competent offerings from a wide range of other brands. Why build new expensive new factories when you can kill two birds with one stone by, well, literally killing a pair of slow-selling vehicles in favor of known profit centers like SUVs wearing the Jeep badge?
It's not a total financial winner for FCA, of course. According to the Detroit Free Press, it cost over $1 billion for the company to simply renovate its assembly plant to build the Chrysler 200, which has been on sale for a mere two years - and that doesn't count the money spent on research and development to get the car from the drawing board to the showroom. The Dart wasn't quite as expensive to bring to market (roughly half the cost of the 200) but it's still far from a drop in the bucket for Dodge et al.
Marchionne built an escape clause into his prognostications of doom for the Dodge and Chrysler sedans: if the company can find a partner willing to build the vehicles for them, then they may well find a second life. Still, it's an unusual solution at best to a problem that would leave Chrysler with but a single four-door car in its portfolio - the 300 - which would join Dodge's Charger and Challenger models. All three share the same platform, but given its age, how long before the hammer falls on these cars too?
Are we looking at a future where Chrysler and Dodge showrooms consist exclusively of vans, trucks, and SUVs? As unusual as that may sound, there's no doubt that Jeep is at the helm of FCA's profits, and if squeezing more cash out of products derived from the venerable off-road brand is the only thing guaranteed to keep the company afloat, we might be about to witness a sea change in Detroit.