What Should Happen to Chrysler and Dodge?

Stellantis leadership is going to have some tough decisions to make in regard to Chrysler and Dodge. While both brands are a shadow of their former selves, Fiat Chrysler viewed their rightsizing as more of a distillation process. Despite lacking the full complement of vehicles necessary to occupy every segment, the two have the oversized American sedan segment almost entirely to themselves. In fact, their more-is-more ethos is becoming increasingly rare within the overall industry and (allegedly) at odds with the coming age. We’ve been told the only way to continue playing is through powertrain downsizing and electrification. The V8 is becoming taboo, reserved for the incognito browser.

What will your neighbors think when they learned you bought a Hemi? The jokes about the size of your member for needing such a big car with such a big motor will perpetually have you on edge and peering over a shoulder. You’ll be a fugitive inside your own mind, forever teetering on the brink. What if your alarmingly massive penis is actually as demure as your bother’s wife suggested when you brought the car to the last family dinner? Wouldn’t it be easier if we all just drove bland crossovers with modestly sized motors? Why do you have to be so different?

These are the kinds of harrowing questions we wouldn’t need to ask ourselves in the aftermath of a midnight screaming fit if Dodge and Chrysler stopped existing. Stellantis has that power … and it may even be considering that possibility right now. But is that really what’s best?

Obviously, your author’s take is a flailing-and-frothing no. Dodge and Chrysler are two of the only brands still producing vehicles from some of my favorite segments. If you want a comfortable, tire-shredding, V8 powered coupe with a backseat that’s actually useful, you literally have to buy a Dodge. If you want an honest-to-god minivan, Chrysler has you covered. Interested in big, burly sedans or a grotesquely overpowered SUV? Your chariot awaits.

But the Pacifica, Challenger, Charger, and 300 weren’t FCA’s biggest sellers — even though they happen to be the models that define their respective brands — and the associated nameplates may not be viewed as essential. Stellantis came into being because Groupe PSA wanted to use the merger to gain direct access to Ram and Jeep. This was made abundantly clear when Stellantis CEO Carlos Tavares explained the company’s future trajectory at the Auburn Hills Technology Center on Wednesday.

“We expect pickups and SUVs to be developed in the Auburn Hills,” Tavares said during a tour of the Michigan manufacturing complex. The Detroit Free Press noted that the focus on certain vehicle types came at the expense of others when it recounted the moment, however.

2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon. Image: Jeep

From Freep:

That’s the most important thing for the U.S. role in the newly created Stellantis. By engineering and building many of the company’s most profitable and best-selling vehicles, Auburn Hills, and thereby Detroit, is assured a significant voice in investment, management and corporate strategy for what just became the biggest car company in town.

Just as they did under FCA, DaimlerChrysler and when Chrysler was independent, sales of Jeeps and pickups will determine Auburn Hills’ fate, and the company’s role in Michigan and America’s economies.

That doesn’t make the 300, Pacifica, Charger and Challenger disposable, though.

It would be irresponsible not to play devil’s advocate against myself. As easy as it is to rationalize the comparative bargains offered through the purchase of a Chrysler 300 or Dodge Charger, they’re not going to be a great fit for everyone. Bland as it may be, the Honda Accord is a solid performer starting a few thousand lower. Its base engine may be 100 horsepower shy of a V6-equipped, vanilla Dodge but it’s an otherwise good vehicle, providing an excellent user experience for anyone in need of reliable transportation. But the Accord has loads of direct competition whereas formerly FCA products exist in a category that’s kind of their own and becomes truly unique once you start optioning them with their famously large powertrains — with V8 outputs ranging between 372 and 807 horsepower.

But that doesn’t make them sustainable products. Dodge and Chrysler are catering to a decidedly American niche that its new French owners might not appreciate. Meanwhile, regulatory issues will continue making large, powerful automobiles increasingly troublesome to manufacture. It’s kind of hard to envision either brand going unaltered in the years ahead.

On a positive note for Mopar fans, Freep at least seemed to understand that FCA’s “lesser” brands held some innate spiritual value. Tavares has likewise hinted that Stellantis had an appetite for marques that weren’t exactly catering to mainstream tastes. He has even spoken kindly about Chrysler and noted the company is “very keen on supporting a Chrysler brand rebound.” Earlier rumors suggested Stellantis might attempt to take Chrysler upmarket, possibly as a way to funnel European luxury vehicles into North America. But there hasn’t been much talk about retaining Dodge’s focus on value, performance, and attitude — making us think it’s the brand we’re most likely to lose.

Is that hunky-dory or would you rather see the new automotive conglomerate take a different approach to the former FCA properties? What would you have done as CEO?

[Images: FCA/Stellantis]


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