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The half-empty glass

by Michael Volkmann on
Opinion. 2016 is nearing an end, and many Mopar and Fiat fans, are left wondering what is to come, and what has happened to “their” car company.  I’m going to try to clear the air by answering a few concerns that have been lurking on social media, forums, and comment pages.
FCA is no longer investing in American brands.  FCA continues to invest in American brands. At least $4 billion was spent to develop the Dart, 200, and Pacifica.  Ram, which has a new truck coming, has seen big investment dollars.  L series cars have received investment with refreshes and upgrades.
The G platform, which will be used by Dodge, was a huge investment.  Jeep has had multiple new vehicles, and will have future product that past owners were not willing to take the risk to produce (e.g. a Wrangler pickup).  Most North American production facilities have been upgraded, some almost totally rebuilt; and there are new parts warehouses.
FCA does not build quality vehicles.  FCA has been getting better  on the Initial Quality Surveys.  Two of FCA’s brands received “most improved” awards in 2016.  Most FCA brands have moved up the list, as the industry average also improved, which is exactly what should be happening.  If the average is improving, FCA can’t move up the list if they are not improving, and the more FCA improves the more it raises the average further.
There needs to be more improvement, but massive improvement won’t happen overnight, and people need to understand that it took other brands years, and even decades to rise to the top of the quality charts.
2015 Fiat 500 Pop Ribelle
FCA does not build dependable vehicles.  In 2016, the Fiat 500 won “most dependable in its class” according to J.D. Powers.  Further, the industry average has been moving the wrong direction in dependability, with a huge chunk of complaints centered around cell phone connectivity and infotainment issues.  That’s right — if a  cell phone won’t connect, that is a negative point towards dependability (as measured).  The current long-term dependability scoring is based on 2013 model-year vehicles, and does not include vehicles launched or improved since 2013:  Grand Cherokee, Durango, 300, Charger, Challenger Ghibli, Giulia, 500X, Renegade, 200, Pacifica, etc.
2016 Chrysler 200C Alloy
FCA is abandoning U.S. sedans and the “bread and butter” markets that sedans sell in.  FCA canceled the Dodge “compact sedan” that was classified as a midsize car by the EPA and was criticized for being too big and slow for the compact car market.  They canceled the midsize sedan that was too small and had issues with back-seat entry/exit.  Both cars were wrong for their markets, despite awards and innovation.
The good news is that FCA is in the process of replacing the Dart with a global compact that has been in the works for years.  Bringing it to the US has been planned from the beginning, but it was not originally planned as a Dart replacement.  FCA has also produced two new luxury sedans in the last few years and thoroughly revised its existing large sedans.  So FCA did not “abandon sedans” in general; at least one new compact sedan is coming, and there is still a possibility of a RWD midsize sedan from Dodge after the Journey is replaced.
Ending production of Dart and 200 without a replacement was a bad decision.  The plant shuffle gave up Dart and 200 production in favor of higher production of the new Ram truck, Jeep Wrangler, Jeep pickup, Cherokee, and even the Wagoneer.  It was a strategic decision with lots of risk.  There was allegedly a plan to subcontract Dart and 200 production; when it fell through, they could either delay all the new vehicles, or live without their unpopular sedans.
There are pros and cons to everything. FCA has taken many risks and made good and bad decisions.  The 2015 200, Dart, and monostable shifter were bad decisions, while the Cherokee, Hellcat, Compass, Renegade, Ram updates/upgrades, Pacifica, and many  others have been good decisions, as far as we can see now.  People tend to focus solely on the bad decisions and miss the good decisions.
Investments in North America will continue, because it’s the biggest bread-winner for FCA.  Billions have been spent on the US and Canada, and lessons have been learned.  Can quality and dependability improve more?  Absolutely, and it should continue to be the focus.
Is the glass half empty or half full?  The perspective is up to you.

Michael Volkmann, a mechanical engineer in the steel industry, autocrossed and road-raced Neons. Michael has drag raced his 1971 Duster 340, 2009 Challenger R/T, and Neons, of which he’s owned seven — one SRT4, three ACRs, and three Sport Coupes.


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