Stellantis CEO’s Plan for FCA Leads With Trucks and SUVs but He Hasn’t Forgotten Cars and Vans Yet
Stellantis CEO Carlos Tavares is all for a Chrysler turnaround, but he’s leading development with the ex-FCA brands’ best-sellers first.
Stellantis CEO Carlos Tavares unveiled a plan Wednesday to keep developing the brands' pickups and SUVs at its Auburn Hills, Mich., tech center, reports the Detroit Free Press. This isn't to say they're giving up on the cars and vans produced by the likes of Chrysler or Dodge, however. In comments from the press conference forwarded to The Drive, Tavares confirmed that he sees Chrysler as one of the foundational marques within Stellantis, but long-term plans for it and other areas of the business are still under development.
What Tavares confirmed is that the former Fiat Chrysler Automotive side of Stellantis will keep developing a lot of products in the U.S. and maintain a major presence here, especially when it comes to the U.S.'s favorite vehicles. “We are going to fully use the tech center in Auburn Hills to engineer all products focused on the U.S. market,” Tavares told the Detroit Free Press. This Detroit-area tech center will start working on electrified versions of the brands' pickups and SUVs as well.
According to the Detroit Free Press, this focus on some of Stellantis' best-selling, highest-margin models will make sure the Auburn Hills facility will remain relevant within the newly merged company and should be a bit of a relief for any worried locals. Through this, the FCA side will hopefully retain a far larger voice in the management and future of the company than they did in their previous (and infamously disastrous) "merger of equals."
But what about other Mopar fans? While the likes of the Dodge Charger, Dodge Challenger, Chrysler 300 and Chrysler Pacifica have a solid following, they're also slower sellers, as the Detroit Free Press notes.
The good news is that Tavares is keen on reviving Chrysler, whose lineup in the U.S. has dwindled to two versions of the Pacifica, the 300 and the Voyager minivan. Tavares explained at the press conference:
"Chrysler is one of the three pillars which represents the foundation of
Stellantis. If you look historically about what has happened in the past, you will find that there is Chrysler, there is Fiat, and there is Peugeot. Those are the three pillars. Needless to say that I'm very keen in supporting the fact that Chrysler brand will rebound."
Tavares has a solid track record of bringing back brands from near-death, with Opel being Stellantis' most recent success story. While the Detroit Free Press believes that Tavares wouldn't be above slashing some of Chrysler and Dodge's beloved cars or vans if they didn't fit into a wider plan, that's really anyone's guess at this point. Tavares is cautiously assessing the Stellantis' brands next steps, and for the short-term, a lot of the iconic cars and vans across the ex-FCA side of the company have either been recently updated or already have a new generation on the way.
The Pacifica, for one, just got a facelift and a trick new all-wheel-drive platform. The next-generation Charger and 300 are believed to be coming on a modified version of the Giorgio platform used on the Alfa Romeo Giulia and Stelvio, which should keep them around for at least five or six more years, the Detroit Free Press writes.
Part of the long-term planning process will be finding a new brand CEO to lead Chrysler. "It is also about making sure that we have a very talented and visionary brand CEO for this brand, and so far, we have not made a decision yet about who we would select," Tavares explained at the event. Once what Tavares calls a "very strong brand team" is in place, they can then come up with a solid mid- and long-term business plan.
That being said, Tavares already sees Chrysler as a potential home for some of Stellantis' most future-forward vehicles based on its history of being at the forefront of American auto tech, explaining during the press conference:
"We do not forget that Chrysler was, in the past, the expression of...automotive American technology—the best technology available at that point in time. Perhaps there is a connection there that we can do and project ourselves in the future, perhaps using other ideas like autonomous vehicles, zero emission vehicles, highly connected vehicles, and this is something that is still in the works. I don't think we have concluded anything so far."
Dodge's place in the lineup is far less precarious than Chrysler's, as Tavares acknowledged that it was "already a very successful brand in its own segments" and understands that the brand is about "enjoying the drive, feeling the acceleration, feeling the power [and] feeling the agility." The bigger issue will be getting Dodge's muscle car faithful over to electrified cars.
"We have the technology to deliver the torque, deliver the dynamics, deliver the acceleration feeling, and at the same time, reduce dramatically the emissions," Tavares said of future Dodges at the press conference. As with Chrysler, the plan is to assemble a brand team who understands who loves these cars and their place in the market. One of that team's biggest hurdles to figure out will be the lack of sound, as Tavares continued:
"What about the noise? What about the sound? What about the sound signature? Which will, of course, be something that we will have to work on, but I think there are solutions for that. And, of course, the new generations also have a different perception of what is a powerful sound compared to my generation. So, again, it's all about people, it's about setting up a team that is now going to bring the brand to the next step, to the next century, with a clear vision destination."
In other words, future investment won't be limited to pickups and SUVs, even though that's the main focus right now. Stellantis also announced a partnership with Archer Aviation on Wednesday to work on aerospace mobility devices, which Tavares believes will help the company make the kind of highly efficient, lightweight and fast-charging batteries that make electrification an easier sell to the masses.
Either way, it's refreshing to hear that Tavares sees Dodge and Chrysler as uniquely American brands with cars that are worth keeping around even in the face of tightening emissions regulations and the SUV/crossover boom. We'll still have to wait and see what the details of that long-term plan look like, though.
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