One of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ two namesake brands, Chrysler, saw its U.S. sales plunge to an 81-month low of just 11,018 units in October 2017. For an auto brand that just two years ago averaged more than 27,000 monthly sales, its best result in seven years, this is a horrifying result, made all the worse by its predictability in 2017.
But Chrysler was by no means Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ only weak link in October. Like Chrysler, Dodge was once a major U.S. auto brand, but Dodge volume plunged 41 percent to just 24,476 units in October as the usual top seller, the Grand Caravan minivan, lost its potential for (largely fleet) volume because of production hiatus in Windsor, Ontario. With relatively few Grand Caravan sales, only 2,431, and a 60-percent drop in Journey sales, Dodge had little potential for meaningful volume. Like Chrysler, Dodge is now out of the midsize game — both the 200 and Avenger are discontinued. Dodge no longer has a compact sedan player, either, which means no rival for the best-selling car in America: Honda’s Civic.
Meanwhile at Ram, clearly the prime route for growth in the current pickup-truck-friendly atmosphere, total volume fell 3 percent in October because Ram P/U sales (up 1 percent) couldn’t overcome a 35-percent commercial van sales decline.
Fiat? The headline FCA brand? Sales in October dropped by a third, an 853-unit decline caused by sharp drops in 500, 124 Spider, and 500X volume.
At Alfa Romeo, where sales should be steadily rising thanks to the launch of the Stelvio SUV, October volume in Alfa Romeo’s U.S. showrooms was weaker than it was, albeit marginally, than in July or September.
Jeep, that bastion of SUV strength, reported its 14th consecutive monthly decline, a 3-percent drop that masks the fact that, discontinued Patriot aside, Jeep volume actually rose 11 percent.
Indeed, that hidden Jeep upside, the figures that reflect improved October demand for Cherokee and Compass and Renegade and anticipation for the new Wrangler, is indicative of a broader view at FCA that all is not lost. U.S. volume at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has fallen, year-over-year, in 15 consecutive months, but a historically unusual FCA approach to producing volume isn’t reflected in the overall numbers. FCA has dramatically reigned in its fleet sales, instead relying far more heavily on true retail demand.
How novel.In October 2017, for example, FCA sold 43-percent fewer vehicles to daily rental companies than in October 2016, driving the ratio of retail-to-fleet volume to 85/15 from 77/23 a year ago. While total FCA sales tumbled 13 percent, sales to retail customers decreased only 4 percent.
But that long-term approach — one that should eventually see fewer ex-rental cars come on the pre-owned market which should theoretically improve resale values which should have the knock-on effect of improving customer satisfaction and thus customer loyalty — requires long-term commitment. Can Fiat Chrysler Automobiles become fully acclimated to a lower-volume status, one that’s seen the company’s share of the U.S. market fall by a full percentage point, to 12 percent, over the last year?
Selling 15,700 fewer vehicles every month in 2017 than in the same period of 2016 isn’t an easy pill to swallow. But remember, FCA’s sharp declines only tell part of the story.