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The search for the real killers

FCA’s October sales painted a grim picture. Despite a nearly 11% increase in the average incentive, sales fell more than 13%, the worst drop of any major automaker except Hyundai.

The Chrysler brands (Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, and Ram) actually posted a larger loss, 13.5%, than FCA’s total 13.2% deficit.

But if you drill down a bit, there were three major factors that killed the year-over-year comparisons: discontinued models, reduced fleet sales, and the combined 70% nosedive of the Dodge Grand Caravan and Dodge Journey.

FCA’s Chrysler brands are saddled with five discontinued models: the Chrysler 200 and Town & Country, the Dodge Dart and Viper, and the Jeep Patriot. Combined deliveries of those five models plunged 87% as inventories are sold down.

Volume lost by the Chrysler leftovers came to 13,419 vehicles in October. Ford has only one legacy model and while GM also has five, its volume loss was much smaller and it was almost totally balanced by sales of the new Bolt EV. The Chrysler brands don’t have any new models to take up the slack. Yes, the new Compass is doing well, but the combined volumes of the Compass and Patriot were still down 21%. It’s a similar story with the Pacifica and Town & Country: total volume was down more than 8% in October.

The ongoing reduction in fleet sales took another big bite out of FCA’s October results. Fleet volume was down 43%, with 17,581 fewer deliveries. Increasing retail sales means more profitability, and FCA had the lowest fleet sales percentage of the Detroit automakers.

Then there was the Dodge disaster. Sales of the Grand Caravan and Journey fell off a cliff, down 79% and 60%, respectively. October was an off month for minivan sales, but the huge drop in Grand Caravan volume turned the segment into the biggest loser of any major market segment. The Grand Caravan wasn’t in production last month and both the Caravan and Journey have been hit by the reductions in fleet turnover.

Between losses due to comparisons with prior-year sales of discontinued models and those caused by fleet reductions, the Chrysler brands lost 31,000 sales compared to October 2016.

Factoring out the leftovers, the numbers tell a different story. Chrysler sales of continuing models were down less than three percent instead of more than 22%. Saddled with the Grand Caravan and Journey, Dodge is still deep in the red, but it’s by 38% instead of 41%. Without the Patriot, Jeep swings from a nearly three percent shortfall to an 11% gain. Ram remains unchanged.

In total, sales of the Chrysler brands would have still been down, but by just over six percent instead of 14%. Factoring out the big losers, the Grand Caravan and Journey, Dodge moves into positive territory with a 10% gain, thanks to the best-selling full-size car in America, the Dodge Charger, and the Dodge Durango. In this scenario the combined Chrysler brands come out nearly five percent ahead.

Yes, this is torturing the numbers a bit, but it’s worthwhile taking a closer look at what the numbers actually say when trying to look ahead.

It’s also good to find the real killers behind the dearth of October sales.

Bill Cawthon grew up in the auto industry in the 1950s. His Dad worked for Chrysler and Bill spent a number of Saturdays down on the plant floor at Dodge Main in Hamtramck. Bill is also the U.S. market correspondent for just-auto.com, a British auto industry publication, and a member of the Texas Auto Writers Association, which has named the Jeep Grand Cherokee the “SUV of Texas” several times and named the Ram 1500 as the “Truck of Texas” two years running.

Bill has owned five Plymouths (including the only 1962 “Texan”), one Dodge and one Chrysler and is still trying to figure out how to justify a Wrangler. He also has owned at least one of every 1:87 scale model of a Chrysler product. You can reach him directly at (206) 888-7324 or by using the form.

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