The merger of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and the PSA Group created an automotive powerhouse now called Stellantis, but it’s also produced a jumble of 14 individual brands. And CEO Carlos Tavares says each of them will have to prove their worth — though he’s giving them time to do so.
Even before the merger there was widespread speculation that some FCA brands might be on the chopping block due to declining sales. But the merger adds a layer of complexity, especially at a time when Stellantis must pick up the pace of its electrification and mobility services programs.
As an executive known for moving quickly, Tavares seems to be in no rush, however. Instead, he appears to be willing to let all 14 of the Stellantis brands lay out plans and prove they’ll work.
Showing the love
“For the time being, we love them all,” the Portugese-born executive said during a webinar sponsored by Automotive News.
“Each (individual brand) CEO has 10 years for which I am telling him or her that he has the funding, the ability to build his long-term business plan and plan for the different product launches and technologies to make the brand grow or rebound and create value for the company.”
Post-merger, Stellantis has more individual automotive brands than any other company, even Volkswagen’s dozen. The list includes a handful of truly global marques, such as Jeep, but most focus on specific markets or regions. Ram is largely limited to the Americas, while Peugeot and Citroen abandoned North America back in the 1990s. Some, like Jeep, have posted dramatic growth in recent years. Others, including both Fiat and Chrysler, are struggling.
A troubled future for two namesakes
In fact, the two namesake Fiat Chrysler marques have been teetering on the edge almost since the day FCA was formed a decade ago. Former CEO Sergio Marchionne had largely shifted focus — and resources — to two Italian brands, Alfa Romeo and Maserati. But the grand plan the late Marchionne laid out has yet to pay off despite billions of dollars spent on new products.
When the FCA-PSA merger plans were announced in 2019 many analysts thought that a retrenchment was inevitable. And they pointed to Tavares, who was designated to become Stellantis CEO, as someone unwilling to tolerate ongoing losses.
But the 62-year-old executive has also shown a willingness to give struggling brands a second chance. That became apparent when PSA completed the acquisition of long-struggling Opel-Vauxhall in 2017. The German-based manufacturer had lost billions under the ownership of General Motors during the prior two decades. Yet Opel wound up back in the black within the first year it was run by Tavares.
By the brand
Whether he can pull off a similar turnaround with the other Stellantis brands is far from certain. Fiat and Chrysler are clearly going to be the most trouble, according to analysts. The U.S. marque now offers only two models, the aging 300 sedan and the Pacifica minivan, not much on which to base a brand. Fiat’s U.S. turnaround fell flat and it is barely hanging on there. It’s continued to lose ground in its home European market, as well.
Dodge isn’t in much better shape. It does have a loyal following for its Charger and Challenger muscle cars, as well as the Durango SUV. But it will have to adapt to a world in which electric drivers, rather than supercharged Hellcat V-8s, rule the road.
Alfa and Maserati are still works in progress but have yet to deliver the sort of sales and earnings numbers Marchionne predicted at an FCA investors seminar shortly before his untimely death in July 2018. Both brands are making major changes to their product programs, among other things, increasing focus on electrification.
Only Jeep and Ram, of all the FCA brands, have a strong and clearly identified path laid out for them. But both must also adapt to an electrified future.
Europe has its own issues
The French Stellantis brands appear to be a bit better positioned than their Italian and American counterparts, but Peugeot, Citroen and DS have their own challenges, especially when it comes to entrenching themselves in China, the world’s largest automotive market. And, shortly after the FCA-PSA merger was completed this year, Tavares called off plans to return Peugeot to the American market.
Stellantis instantly became the world’s fourth-largest automaker based on vehicle sales once the deal was completed. But it lags behind its three largest competitors, Volkswagen Group, Toyota and the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance, in some key categories. That includes not only a weak presence in China, but also a slow push into both battery and autonomous vehicle technologies.
It appears that Tavares is looking to give each Stellantis brand enough time to define the path forward, rather than racing to cut them out of the family.