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SM disses “death of Dodge” drama

by Chris Vander Doelen on

The death of Dodge a a venerable American brand has been greatly exaggerated, according to a guy who should know: FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne.

There were no details, but Marchionne was unequivocal during a question-and-answer session with North and South American media in Detroit that at least two new Dodges are in the works: one a car of some form – although he did not specify a sedan; the other, the long-awaited replacement for the Grand Caravan minivan.

The minivan replacement has pretty much been decided, he said in answer to a question from one of about 400 print reporters he faced Monday morning at the North American International Auto Show. (He talked to European and broadcast media separately). Most of the media were American, Canadian and Mexican (one of whom asked about his trademark sweaters), with a smattering from South America.

2017 Dodge Grand Caravan SXT Plus

“The end plan is in place to get that done and replace Caravan,” he said. “I think there are plans in place to take another product into” Windsor Assembly, where the Caravan is built in Ontario. The changeover “has to” take place with two and a half years, he said. But the Windsor plant has already been reconfigured to handle it. Most speculation has it that the minivan will be replaced by a four or five-door crossover or SUV based on the Pacifica platform, which is built alongside the Caravan at WAP. But Marchionne didn’t go there in his answer.

There may also be plans afoot for new Dodge car. While waxing philosophical about the automotive industry in general and power of brands – literally: he quoted Wittengenstein at one point, who he said was his favorite philosopher when he studied the subject as a “foolish” undergraduate in university – Marchionne said FCA would continue to build passenger cars.

“I think we have found a way to play the Dodge name, in passenger cars.” He pointed to the success of former Dodge brand chief Reid Bigland in selling the Charger and Challenger. “We’re going to continue playing that card.” The future of the industry, he said, will belong to those who can leverage brand power to overcome the inevitable “commoditization” of personal mobility in electrified vehicles. The older brands are the stronger ones, he said.

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Bigland has been known to publicly defend the continuing assembly of the Caravan despite criticism that the platform has aged out and has run its course in the market and should be replaced. Bigland says it’ still selling too well to go away just yet. “As long as Reid can defend his position … I think we’re safe,” Marchionne said.

A female Mexican reporter wanted to know where the CEO buys his famous black sweaters, since he is almost never seen in public wearing anything else. “I buy them online,” he said with a shrug, eliciting laughter. “I buy everything on line. Given my work schedule, usually between two and four o’clock in the morning. And I buy them by the dozen. On sale.”

He refused to identify the brand. “It would be crazy of me to start offering plugs for anybody . . . unless they want to sponsor Ferrari.”

Chris Vander Doelen was Opinion Editor and columnist of The Windsor Star until December, 2016; he was the Star's automotive reporter and columnist for seven years, and had also covered the political and gambling beats. With his wife, Veronique Mandal, he wrote the book Chasing Lightning (1999). Chris won a National Newspaper Award in 1997 and more than a dozen provincial news awards. There is a Chrysler 300 in his driveway.

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