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Behind the surprise: Why Sunday? (Updated)

by David Zatz on

Yesterday’s press release from FCA, detailing a billion-dollar phase of the plant shuffle, was rather unusual in a few ways — and since FCA rarely does things without a reason, let’s see if we can figure out what they were thinking.

The release made three upcoming vehicles official — the Wrangler pickup, the Wagoneer, and the Grand Wagoneer. FCA usually doesn’t send out press releases about future vehicles, even if everyone already knows about them, and was even doing renderings three years ago.

It was a Sunday release, which is rare except for “we contributed to the United Way” articles. It was also announced earlier than usual (‘subject to approval of incentives”); normally, FCA likes to make sure everything is in place before a press release.

The company wrote that the vehicles and factory renovations had “been under discussion” with the union “for some time.” That’s true enough — it’s how Allpar, Automotive News, and many others learned about the swaps. No, none of this is news for long-time Allpar readers — except for the official confirmation.

What are the reasons for all this? Well, mainly, one suspects, to make sure FCA got credit for its manufacturing investments in the USA, with commitments (since 2009) of over $9.6 billion.

Ford, GM, and Toyota have been targeted by president-elect Trump’s tweets, so that any decisions they make to invest in America from here on in will be credited by the media and by customers to “pressure from Trump.”  FCA was surely next.

sergio marchionne

Never mind that FCA talked about their plans with the UAW months (or even a year) ago; never mind that we were reporting it before the nominations, much less the election, were cinched.  The news media, focused only on grabby headlines, has already chosen to attribute the investments to fear of Trump tweets (even at the normally responsible Bloomberg News).

That, we believe, is why they pointed out that they had been talking with the union for a long time — to prove that they weren’t reacting to tweets. It seems that headline and story writers weren’t willing to go with reality, when a Trump-bannered story would grab more clicks.

Update: Sergio Marchionne was asked today specifically if the election had an impact on the investments, and Mr. Marchionne replied that the decision “had been in the works for a long period of time,” and was part of the discussions with the UAW in 2015. “There’s nothing unusual in this step — it’s just a continuation of the refueling of the US manufacturing base to try to nurture the growth for the local markets and the international markets for Jeep and Ram.”

The Ram is to be released, “hopefully,” next January.  “We were capacity constrained, and have been capacity constrained, on the Ram for several months… The announcement yesterday was coincidental with all these tweets coming out.”

If you wondered why FCA broke huge news on a Sunday afternoon, talking about specific future products that aren’t due for at least a year, it’s because they want credit for their investments in North America. Sadly, it seems unlikely they’ll get it — though this is but the latest of their investments in our continent and our country.

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