Insiders: Opel Likely To Get Away With Dieselgate Cheating, Fiat Won’t

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Both GM’s Opel and  Fiat Chrysler have become the targets of serious dieselgate accusations. The companies have been in the media for months. Last week, the matter became official, and both carmakers were held accountable by German regulators. Opel met with the Germans, and most likely will get away with a stern finger-wagging, industry experts agree. Fiat stood up officials in Berlin, and the book is being thrown at the Italian maker.

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FCA Feels The Crunch

Stuck in neutral... (courtesy: Bernstein Research)

Stuck in neutral… (courtesy: Bernstein Research)

Ever since Sergio Marchionne offered the auto bailout team a home for a bailed-out Chrysler, his Italo-American hodgepodge has been held together with bootpolish, high hopes and strong demand for trucks and SUVs. Had the Jeep and Ram brands been spun off to any other automaker, the Fiat, Chrysler and Dodge brands would almost have certainly ended up in a bankruptcy sale. Instead the House of Chrysler’s two perennial profit centers have found themselves stuck propping up failing mass market brands, just as they were under Cerberus and Daimler-Chrysler management. In the meantime, Chrysler’s cross-town rivals have improved their cars enough to push their truck-powered profit margins towards the 10% level in North America.  But despite strong growth in sales growth, volume and mix, FCA’s North American margins are “bizarrely low” according to research by Bernstein. And their research shows that the bootpolish is really starting to wear thin…

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Chrysler Is Still Waiting For Its Quality Turnaround

Who's laughing now?

Who’s laughing now?

In 2009, when Sergio Marchionne’s team presented the first five-year plan for what would become Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), his VP for Quality Doug Betts told attendees that Chrysler’s quality problems would soon be a thing of the past. Thanks to Fiat’s superior fit-and-finish standards and “World Class Manufacturing” system, Chrysler hoped to match the best mass-market competitors on quality by 2012 according to Betts. Three years after that initial goal had passed unaccomplished, Betts is gone but FCA’s US-market brands are still occupying the bottom tier of Consumer Reports’ most recent automotive quality survey. With quality problems plaguing even its “halo” Hellcat and Ecodiesel engines as recently as last week, it’s clear that Marchionne hasn’t been able to bring the long-term quality backmarker up to pace.

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Black Friday Deals Behind The Chrysler 200’s Hot Sales

On closer inspection...

On closer inspection…

After years of having to put a brave face on what everyone knew was just an updated Sebring, Chrysler’s 2015 200 was supposed to be the brand’s bold return to the midsized segment. Reviewers gave mixed-to-positive reviews, all concluding that the new 200 is a definite step up from the old model. Sales were up over 150% Year-Over-Year in November… so has Fiat’s CUSW platform made Chrysler competitive in the hotly-contested midsized sedan segment?

As the numbers above indicate, probably not. According to national sales data from TrueCar’s website, only the cheapest model of the new 200 (LX FWD) is selling close to MSRP ($68 above, actually). Every other trim of the new 200 is selling at deep discounts, despite having launched just this year. In fact, consumers spent less on average for the second level (Limited FWD) than the base trim, and average discounts for the top trim reach nearly $4,000. Though it’s impossible to know what the average of these averages is without knowing the sales mix, the fact that the typically loss-leading lowest trim is the only one maintaining any pricing discipline, its clear that this brand-new car is buying market share in hopes of appearing successful. Given that Edmunds says the Chrysler brand as a whole averaged a 20% discount in October, it’s clear that FCA’s attempt to transform Chrysler into a mass-market offering is not going to be a gimme.

Chrysler’s Canadian Breakdown

 

Southbound and Down? (Courtesy: canadianmetalworking.com)

Brampton: Southbound and Down? (Courtesy: canadianmetalworking.com)

When Chrysler Group LLC announced that it was withdrawing requests for Canadian Government aid earlier this week, my immediate reaction was to think: “there goes another piece of Canada’s auto industry.” Having just months ago watched GM close its Australian operations when it became clear the government there wouldn’t continue to subsidize the industry, it seemed clear that Chrysler would move at least one of its Canadian products to the waiting Toluca, Mexico plant. I was not alone in guessing that Windsor’s minivan plant would be on the block, but in its carefully-worded statement Chrysler indicated it would move ahead with the tool-up for a new generation of minivans there. Chrysler even committed to investing in “substantial product interventions” for Brampton’s Lx platform vehicles (300, Charger, Challenger), which are supposed to hit markets later this year.

So did FCA’s CEO Sergio Marchionne break the political math tying government support to new product investments? Not exactly. He still has plenty of room to maneuver, and lots of possible asks. And the likelihood that a Canada plant will end up losing a Chrysler plant to Mexico remains very high.

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The New, New, New Chrysler: Half Time In A Dutch-based UK Tax Domicile

Go ahead... make my tax year.

Go ahead… make my tax year.

Immediately after the US government funded and brokered marriage of Fiat and Chrysler, the company’s advertising took an unmistakable turn towards themes of national identity and patriotism. From the over-saturated sincerity of Chrysler’s “Imported From Detroit” ads, Ram’s “So God Made A Farmer” sermon and Jeep’s  “The Things We Make Make Us” manifesto, to the dripping irony of Dodge’s “Freedom” spot, every brand in the new “Chrysler LLC” played up its American-ness in a different way. And when Fiat’s 500 was introduced to the US market it was marketed almost exclusively in ways that highlighted its Italian-ness, despite the fact that the car has never actually been built outside Poland and Mexico. Clearly Fiat-Chrysler’s Canadian-born CEO Fiat Marchionne and French-born marketing boss Olivier Francois believe quite strongly in the power of national identity as a marketing tool.

This was already a provocative choice, given that these US-based brands had come under the control of an Italian firm, at some cost to the US taxpayer. But with news breaking that the new Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA henceforth) will be based in The Netherlands with a UK tax domicile and listed on the New York Stock Exchange, this patriotic marketing strategy becomes even more of a liability. FCA would love to have its cake and eat it too: benefit from national bailouts and nationalist marketing while enjoying every tax and banking advantage of new transnational corporate structures. The question is: can it?

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The Once And Future Cherokee

What comes around goes around... I'll tell you why

What comes around goes around… I’ll tell you why

From the moment the new Jeep Cherokee broke cover online, squinting into the bright lights of massive expectation, the signs of trouble have been there. Starting with styling which managed to be both jarring and forgettable, and continuing on to transmission issues and other introductory awkwardness, the Cherokee is quickly becoming the most troubling new product launch of the year. After all, the stakes couldn’t be higher: not only does the new Cherokee represent Jeep’s latest attempt to make progress in the absolutely crucial compact CUV segment, its launch is coinciding with Chrysler’s IPO.

But for all the signs of nervousness in Cherokee nation, a drive down Malibu’s 27 sun-kissed miles last weekend revealed no fewer than three new Cherokees glaring their way down Highway One. If the Cherokee is in good enough shape to flaunt for journalists and the One Percent, perhaps things are not quite what they seem.

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