If not for the iceberg, the Titanic would have made it to New York City, more than 1,500 people wouldn’t have died. James Cameron wouldn’t have won three Oscars (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Film Editing) either for the 1997 film which recounted the story of the, theoretically unsinkable, ship. So the iceberg was the culprit, right?
Well, the iceberg was just floating because, you know, that’s what icebergs do. It was the Captain’s fault that led to one of the largest shipwrecks in history. Likewise, it is Sergio Marchionne’s fault that FCA is sinking like a brick.
The latest Wards Auto report is laying down the numbers, and it draws a very grim picture.
To say that last month was a total disaster would be the understatement of the year. Compared to the same month in 2017, each and every FCA brand experienced a fall in sales in the US market.
Unsurprisingly, Fiat fell the most, by a startling 45.5 percent to 1,229 vehicles. Dodge was down 33.9 percent to 27,600 units, while Chrysler fell by 24.0 percent to 10,584 vehicles and RAM by 19.3 percent to 31,700 units. Why, even Jeep, which right now probably has the best portfolio of all FCA brands, fell too, though its 1.9 percent decline is practically nothing to worry about compared to all the other brands’ results.
As the report points out, last year FCA posted 16 straight year-over-year declines based on daily sales. This is no typo: 16 continuous declines! This has a very simple explanation. For the past decade and a half, the Fiat Group’s managers made one mistake after another, so it was inevitable that, at some point, things would turn very, very sour.
So why, one might ask, blame just Marchionne? Well, first of all he is at the helm of the ship since 2004, and, second, he’s made some very bad decisions himself. While initially he was applauded for the rapid turnaround of Fiat to profitability at just two years and acquiring Chrysler when it filed for bankruptcy, we really can’t remember all the mistakes and constant changes of plans he’s made in the past few years alone, which have led the whole group to this disastrous situation, but we’ll take a shot at it.
He killed off Lancia
It’s not that the brand was really healthy when Marchionne became the Group’s CEO, but his decision to roll out three “new” models (essentially rebadged Chryslers) only to axe them shortly afterwards, leaving Lancia with just the Ypsilon that’s sold in its home market, was completely his doing. Lancia had a long and distinguished history and simply did not deserve to die. Even with the rebadged Chryslers, Marcionne could have borrowed some time to roll out exciting cars once again, but he took the easy way out and just pulled the plug.
He has left Fiat with a very limited lineup
Let’s take a look at Fiat’s range, shall we? Well, we have the 500, the 500C, the 500X, the 500L, the 500L Trekking and the 500 Abarth. This is a car that was originally launched in 2007, and even though initially everyone fell in love with it, it simply is too long in the market. Then again, there’s the Punto that’s been around even longer, having been launched in 2005. As for the Bravo, let’s just say it won’t be missed. So, Fiat is left with just a mini car in various versions, plus a very, very old B-segment car. Oh, and a rebadged MX-5 that, somehow, is less fun to drive than the Japanese version. Nice job Sergio.
He still hasn’t managed to resurrect Alfa Romeo
At this point, you might cry “unfair”, for under his leadership Alfa, which has been given way more chances than any other automaker by petrolheads, launched its first rear-wheel drive saloon and its first-ever SUV. Once the initial enthusiasm wore off, it’s clear that Alfa’s range is very limited, as it comprises of the MiTo (a stylish Punto with less space and a higher price tag), the Giulietta, the Giulia and the Stelvio, plus the low-volume 4C.
This is supposed to be the brand that’ll fight BMW, Mercedes and the rest of the premium segment contenders? Even Ferrari has a broader lineup for crying out loud! Perhaps he should have sold it to the VW Group when Ferdinand Piech tried to acquire it, but that was in the pre-dieselgate era. Now, the Germans have shifted their priorities to electrics and hybrids and the offer is no longer on the table.
He can’t close a deal with another manufacturer
Mergers and large-scale collaborations are currently what the automotive world is all about, as they allow for decreased development and manufacturing costs and, therefore, greater profit margins. Mercedes-Benz is working with the Renault-Nissan Alliance for its compact models and BMW is developing its Z4 successor along with Toyota, which will get its own version, the Supra. Marchionne was publicly humiliated by GM CEO Marry Barra, who practically laughed at his face when he proposed a collaboration, and PSA preferred to buy Opel rather than acquire or work together with FCA.
He is going to build a Ferrari SUV
Not that long ago, Marchionne declared that he’d have to be shot in the head before he approved a Ferrari SUV. Apparently, someone did, and the resulting damage led to him admitting that the Prancing Horse will roll out a crossover after all. Yes, we’re aware that everyone’s jumping on the SUV bandwagon, even arch-rival Lamborghini.
Then again, despite their supercars being rivals on the street, Lambo doesn’t have that much of a racing history, while Ferrari’s name is inextricably linked to motorsports. An SUV will surely increase sales, but this is altering the brand’s DNA.
Ferrari was never about volume, despite the fact that it will sell each and every car it makes. It might look like a turd, and it will still sell as long as it has the Cavallino Rampante on it. But a Ferrari-badged SUV? Enzo must be rolling in his grave!
True, Maserati has built the Levante (which, by the way, isn’t doing very well), but although it’s a luxury brand, it doesn’t even come close to Ferrari’s prestige. Marchionne should look towards making more SUVs for Alfa Romeo, not Ferrari, as the Stelvio is not enough: try to count Audi’s, Merc’s or BMW’s SUVs when you have lots of free time, and you’ll understand why Alfa is still struggling.
There are many more things we could say, like how FCA is letting its U.S. brands with a range that, for the most part, is battling GM’s and Ford’s much younger portfolio, or how when the whole industry is working on electrification, Marchionne says it’s not viable – but we won’t.
Instead, we’ll wrap this up with a proposal: just bring back Luca di Montezemolo and hand him FCA’s keys. The man had been with the Fiat Group since 1974, when he started at Ferrari’s Formula 1 team, until 2014, when he resigned due to his objections over Marchionne’s plans for the brand. It was he who put together the close-knit team of people who returned Ferrari to winning championships in F1 after two decades, and he was also the man who imposed a significant improvement on the quality of Maranello’s road cars. Or just sell the company to the Chinese; after all, look at what Geely has done with Volvo, that’s in its best form ever.