Chrysler-Fiat Product Sharing Details Emerge

By Chris Haak

01.29.2009

Industry publication Automotive News reported this week on the tentative plans that Chrysler and Fiat have for sharing products in the venture that the companies announced last week.  The automakers have a March 31, 2009 deadline for coming to a final agreement, and Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne visited Chrysler headquarters in Auburn Hills, Michigan today to look over the company that Fiat has agreed to acquire 35% of.

Before the ink was even dry on the “non-binding term sheet” – in fact, when the alliance was reported as “likely” and not a sure thing, our own J.S. Smith walked through some of his ideas about how the Chrysler-Fiat partnership would work.  Now, some more concrete details – though still not officially confirmed by the two companies – are starting to emerge. Or to leak, as the case may be.

Overall, Chrysler will sell seven Fiat, Fiat family, or Fiat-engineered vehicles in the US at Chrysler dealerships; the seven vehicles will be built on four different platforms.  The likely candidates are mostly small cars; Chrysler has no entry in the B-segment (subcompacts) and only the Caliber, Compass, and Patriot in the larger C-segment (compacts), and needs to boost its CAFE number significantly in coming years, which will be difficult without efficient products in the lineup to offset the 15 mile per gallon Hemis.  Here are the plans as reported by Automotive News:

A-segment (Minicars)
The wildly popular Fiat 500 will be built in Mexico at Chrysler’s plant in Toluca, Mexico and sold in the US, branded as a Fiat.  The 500 will offer style on par with what Mini offers, but will likely undercut its price, particularly if it’s built in the NAFTA zone.  Also, the next-generation Fiat Panda small car will likely be badged as a Dodge or Chrysler.  While the minicars will help Chrysler’s CAFE numbers, I also don’t see them being wildly popular with US buyers who prefer large, powerful vehicles.

B-Segment (Subcompacts)
Chrysler was already planning to sell a version of the Nissan Versa with Chrysler’s styling (which is hopefully going to start improving; I’m getting more optimistic having seen the 200C concept and the production 2009 Ram) while in turn building the next-generation Titan pickup for Nissan.  The plans with Fiat call for selling the quirky and popular MiTo subcompact in the US, while also selling a Dodge- or Chrysler-badged vehicle of similar size but with Chrysler or Dodge styling instead of Alfa Romeo styling.  Unless Ralph Gilles quickly finds his mojo again, it’s not hard to guess which of the two cars will be the better looking one.

C-segment (Compacts)
Chrysler’s current entries in this segment have certainly not met critical acclaim, and aren’t even really cars, per se, with the Jeep Compass ironically being probably the most car-like of the three.  For anyone who wants to buy a Chrysler or Dodge compact car without the butched-up styling, they’re out of luck today.  However, the replacement for these three vehicles (Caliber, Compass, Patriot – and don’t think for a minute that all of most of those three nameplates will survive into a second generation) will be badged as a Chrysler or Dodge and based on Fiat’s C-Evo platform.  Further, Fiat plans to sell its next-generation Alfa 147 compact in the US, and in fact build the car in the US as well.

D-segment (Midsize)
With Chrysler’s vaunted Project D (which was intended as a crash program to replace the rental car favorite Sebring and Avenger) put on ice after the defection of its leader to Tesla and then the subsequent cash crisis at Chrysler later in 2008.  Until the Fiat alliance was announced, Chrysler didn’t seem to have any clue what to do about the Avenger and Sebring problem, with many folks expecting Chrysler to rebadge or rebody a Nissan Altima, which wouldn’t be a bad move at all for Chrysler.

The Fiat alliance, however, likely means that the Sebring/Avenger replacement (and it is almost certain to be a single vehicle this time) will be built on a stretched version of Fiat’s C-Evo platform that’s currently under development.  I’m personally not thrilled with this idea, because part of the problem with the Sebring/Avenger twins is that they’re built on an enlarged version of the Caliber’s platform, and a platform cost-engineered for a compact car may not be engineered as well as a dedicated D-segment platform.  There are no plans to sell any Fiat group D-segment products in the US at this time.

So basically, around the 2011 model year, Chrysler will transition from three poorly-received compacts and two poorly-received midsize cars to one city car, one subcompact, one compact, and one midsize.  There will also be a related Fiat city car (the 500), a related Alfa subcompact (the MiTo), and a related Alfa compact (the 147) sold in the US alongside the Fiat products.  By coming online for the 2011 model year, the new small cars should help Chrysler meet more stringent CAFE standards that take effect for that year.

From the above information, it appears that Chrysler is getting the better end of the deal, and they clearly are from a product standpoint.  However, Fiat gains re-entry into the US market with minimal (or no) upfront investment and also will probably gain access to Chrysler’s new powerful and fuel efficient Phoenix V6 engine family, while providing Chrysler with access to its small four cylinder engines.

The Fiat alliance may well be the death knell for the independent Chrysler, as Cerberus does everything it can to get the heck out of the automobile business, but at least it gives Chrysler a chance of surviving in some form, even if it’s only a shell of what it used to be.  A Chrysler lineup built on Fiat platforms is preferable to a nonexistent Chrysler lineup.

COPYRIGHT Autosavant – All Rights Reserved

Author: Chris Haak

Chris is Autosavant's Managing Editor. He has a lifelong love of everything automotive, having grown up as the son of a car dealer. A married father of two sons, Chris is also in the process of indoctrinating them into the world of cars and trucks.

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11 Comments

  1. As one who travels a lot I have rented both Fiats and Chryslers on numerous occasions. With this experience I can only hope that Fiat ends up owning all of Chrysler and quickly puts every one of the current Chrysler car offerings out of their, and our, miseries. The current Fiat models are modern, well built, and very pleasant to drive.

    By the way, the success of the MINI, Honda Fit, and Smartcar indicates that Americans are learning to appreciate smaller cars. I can’t wait to buy a 500 to replace, or add to, my MINI S.

  2. Think they could sell a lot of 500s as it might be a cult car,like New Beatle,PT Cruiser,Mini etc. However, hard to imagine Americans buying Pandas unless gas zooms back up.

  3. Strange they aren’t planning to import some low priced Fiats as quick as possible – maybe the Linea sedan or the Doblo van-based MPV? At this rate will Chrysler even be around by 2011?

  4. From an old newspaper man, kudos on some excellent reporting. As both a Fiat and Chrysler fan, I’m excited about this union. I just hope they get small cars into Chrysler dealerships in time to save it.

  5. also, another factor played against the use of the Fiat Croma platform was as we knew, a derivated platform from GM-Epsilon platform when GM was involved with Fiat http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fiat_Croma and unless they reach an agreement with GM, they can’t allow the use of the Epsilon platform for the Sebring/Avenger successor

    However, there some new rumors then Fiat search for a 3rd partner, first Peugeot-Citroen http://www.autoblog.com/2009/01/27/fiat-psa-merger-in-the-cards-or-off-the-table/ and now BMW http://www.autoblog.com/2009/01/28/fiat-to-jump-into-bed-with-bmw-too (and now who could we imagine next? Renault?)

  6. The funniest thing for me is that the apparently fairly popular but decidely dull looking Dodge Sprinter (which is a rebadged Mercedes Sprinter) would & could simply be replaced by the very capable but rather unconventional looking Fiat Ducato
    http://www.fiatcv.com.au/cms/default.asp?action=article&ID=21775

    …plus ChryslerFiat could get the Fiat Scudo onto the US market to compete with the forthcoming Ford TransitConnect.

  7. VW actually builds Passat on stretched Golf platform. So Chrysler is not alone. Chrysler has to make what it really does well – fullsize RWD American cars. There is no and will be no competition for 300C and Charger in near future.

    I actually wonder why Chrysler does not team up with Mitsubisi since they complement each other and has history of cooperation.

  8. I’d buy a Panda–I sort of like the quirky, functional styling and a true city car would be give Chrysler-FIAT a unique niche in North America. Whatever they do, the offerings can’t be any worse than Chrysler’s current compact and mid-size offerings. Outside of the aging 300/Charger and niche Challenger, Chrysler has no remotely decent car offerings. It’s hard to believe that only 10-12 years ago they were they style leaders in North America.

  9. If only Lancia would come back to the States as part of this deal.

  10. I agree with J.Smith, how can this possibly be worse than the current Chrysler lineup?

  11. In Europe the Fiat Ducato chasis is used in over 80% of the camper conversions. It will be a mistake not to import this chasis to the US. Now, the only other choice is, the German Built Sprinter, which iis too narrow, to high and too expensive.

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