Buzz Abounds On Fiat Chrysler's Next Five Years

Sergio Marchionne and his Fiat Chrysler colleagues are set to unveil an ambitious five-year plan business plan at a briefing in Auburn Hills, Mich., tomorrow that commentators this morning are doing their prognosticating best to make yesterday’s news.

It “will be a blueprint for growing the new company around the world to boost sales and develop better economies of scale, improve its brand strategy and develop a foundation for how it will meet increasingly strict emissions standards,” writes Karl Henkel in the Detroit News

And it’s coming at “a critical time” with the Netherlands-based holding company due to debut on the New York Stock Exchange this October under the acronym FCA. 

“Before FCA can sell more cars and trucks, analysts say it needs to re-establish how it markets individual brands to customers,” Henkel writes. In particular, “neither Dodge nor Chrysler has a solid identity, as Jeep does with its sport utility vehicles and Ram with trucks.”

There will be a “slew of new models from Chrysler, Dodge, Fiat and Alfa Romeo,” Mark Phelan reports in the Detroit Free Press, as well as “a redefinition of Dodge centered on American muscle” and an attempt to boost Chrysler, which has only three vehicles bearing its badge today.

“The Chrysler division has been in dire need of a solid brand definition,” independent auto analyst Michelle Krebs tells Phelan. “Every owner of Chrysler has struggled with what the Chrysler nameplate means. The division, if it is to exist in the future, is also in need of substantial new product.”

There’s a lot riding on Jeep, which is the only brand that will over-deliver on the volume targets that Marchionne set when he announced the company’s last five-year plan in 2009. The automaker wants to double Jeep’s global sales “to more than 1.5 million vehicles by 2018 with strong growth in South America and China,” sources tell Automotive News’ Luca Ciferri. He points out that global sales grew by 36% to 731,565 units last year and should pass a million this year.

Besides expanding Jeep, Marchionne plans to revamp the luxury Maserati and upmarket Alfa Romeo marques, writes Reuters’ Agnieszka Flak, and hopes to make inroads with all three in the fast-growing Asian market.

Investors have been optimistic about Marchionne’s plans in general, with “shares up around 50% over the last six months,” but some analysts feel he “has not shown the operational flair to match his dealmaking.”

“Marchionne is capable, but there have been too many changes to his plans,” says Stephanie Brinley, a senior analyst at IHS Automotive. “Execution for some projects has been weak and disjointed; there are some holes to be filled.’

All eyes will be on the high-end Alfa Romeo tomorrow, which “Looks For Love in the U.S.” after a revitalization effort that’s putting billions of dollars at stake, Christina Rogers reports in a detailed look at the strategy for the nameplate in the Wall Street Journal. It will be taking on competitors such as Audi and Volkswagen, Rogers writes, by recruiting Maserati and Fiat dealers.

It “aims to have nearly 100 Alfa retail stores in place by the end of 2014, and ultimately expand the number of U.S. stores to 350 over time, according to people briefed on the plans,” Rogers reports. “That is more than Audi's current U.S. network of 281 dealerships.”

Stefano Aversa, a managing director at consulting firm AlixPartners, tells Rogers “it will take 6 to 12 years and a very consistent push in all these direction to build Alfa as a premium brand.” Not to mention a $4 to $7 billion commitment, according to analysts.

The Alfa, which did a “star-turn as the car driven by Dustin Hoffman in the 1967 movie ‘The Graduate,’” as Rogers points out, seems to tug on the heart strings.

“Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson once suggested that if you liken the global car industry to the human body, Toyota would be the brain, Aston Martin the face, and Cadillac the stomach. Alfa Romeo? Alfa Romeo is the heart and soul,” writes Digital Trend’s Andrew Hard in a piece exploring the reorganization of Alfa as a standalone legal entity within Fiat-Chrysler.

“But it is like that really good-looking boyfriend, when you're not quite sure if he is cheating on you or not,” Jane Nakagawa, managing director at Portia Consulting, tells Reuters’ Flak.

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