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December yields surprising gains (updated with Canada)

by David Zatz on

When Sergio Marchionne first took over Chrysler Group, he found a company whose statistics had been boosted for years by unprofitable fleet sales. His oft-stated goal was to push the entire Fiat Chrysler empire into premium status, boosting retail sales and higher-profit cars in every segment.

2018’s sales numbers seem to show that his strategy worked. U.S. retail sales were 1,760,488, the highest level since 2001, when Plymouth was still in play and Daimler had barely begun its pattern of asset-stripping and bad-mouthing of the Chrysler brands. 2018 fleet sales were still high, at 21% of overall sales, but lower than in past years; total sales rose by 9%, to 2,235,204.

The big winner for the year was, to nobody’s surprise, Jeep. The new Compass easily outperformed the old Compass and Patriot twins, with 171,167 sales for the year—a 106% gain over last year’s Compass and a roughly 39% gain over the Compass and Patriot combined. The Wrangler shot up by 26%, with JKs for cost-constrained buyers and JLs for the rest. The refreshed Cherokee shot up by 41%, coming in at 239,437—around 600 sales short of the Wrangler. The only losses were for the Grand Cherokee (down 7%), with a replacement constantly rumored to be coming soon, and the Renegade, down 6% despite a refresh.

Ram also had a respectable gain, with its pickups rising 7% in the face of new Chevy pickups, ending up at 536,980. The ProMaster Van was up 15% after a refresh, while the City fell by 12% with almost negligible sales.

Dodge was up, too, by 3%, but only because the Caravan did so well, posting a 21% gain. Few expected the Caravan to last this long, but a quick engineering refresh to conform to new safety rules brought new life to the old, and affordable, van. Speaking of old, the Journey gained by 5% as well, making it the second most popular Dodge. Of the large cars, the Challenger rose slightly, by 3%; the Charger fell by 9%, more than making up for that gain; and the 300 dropped by 9% as well. They still did quite well for sedans today, with the Charger hitting 80,226, the 300 reaching 46,593, and the Challenger in the middle at 66,716. Given all those “death of the car” stories, that’s good performance. The Durango, incidentally, followed the Grand Cherokee into the loss sheet.

Chrysler’s 300 has already been notd; the Pacifica held stead, gaining just 48 sales, for a 0% gain. Overall, Chrysler lost 12% when leftover 200s and Town & Countrys were thrown in.

Fiat had another abominable year; you may have thought throwing in free turbochargers would have helped the 500, but sales fell by 58%. Every Fiat dropped, even the refreshed L and the new-ish 124 Spider.  At Alfa Romeo, the news was far better: the brand nearly doubled in sales, to 23,820, with the Stelvio finally taking over the #1 position from the Giulia. The only lower was the very-niche 4C, whose sales are expected to be (and are) in the hundreds.

Overall, it was a fine year for the former Chrysler Corporation in the United States. But how was the month? Quite good, it seems, and similar to the year as a whole. Sales for December gained 14% overall from last December, with Jeep gaining by 10%, Ram by a stunning 37%, and Dodge by 17%. Chrysler and Fiat fell, more disturbingly, Alfa Romeo fell, too, though that may be because people prefer not to buy rear wheel drive “summer cars” in December. The Giula fell but the Stelvio rose.

Canada

December was not at all good to FCA Canada, with major drops in sales for every brand, including Alfa Romeo, which fell to practically nothing—indeed, to Fiat levels. Dodge plummeted by 56%, from 5,324 sales to just 2,316; Jeep fell by 23%, Chrysler by 81%, Ram by 4%, Alfa Romeo by 88%, and Fiat by 70% from 60 sales to just 18.

Ram Sport for Canada

For the full year, Canada looked better; Jeep sales went up 2% to set a new record, with Wrangler sales up 42% and Compass up 46%. All other models fell, including the new Cherokee.  Alfa Romeo rose by 26%, despite December’s results, with the Stelvio up by 85% (and Giulia down by 14%). Fiat was a disaster even looking at 2018 as a whole, with sales down by 72% to 645 across four models and 12 months.

Ram fell by 14% in 2018. Chrysler, both of whose cars are made in Canada, dropped by 29%, with the 300 falling by 19% and the Pacifica by just 3%; most of the pain at the brand level came from the fact we’re comparing a two-car 2018 to a three-car 2017 (the 200 scored 2,842 sales in 2017 and none in 2018). Dodge had no such excuse, falling by 31%, mainly due to a 58% drop in Journey sales, 31% loss in Caravans, and a 34% drop in Challengers; the Charger gained by 1% and the Durango by 7%.

The reason for the drops is likely a pulling of the sharp discounts on vehicles sold in Canada, which have all been selling artificially well. With price supports removed, there is likely to be some pain while sales numbers normalize, but in the long run it should make FCA Canada healthier.

Here’s the U.S. chart…

and the Canada chart…

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