Future Cars: FCA’s Next Five Years

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Sergio Marchionne has rolled out his third five-year plan for FCA, and with it a torrent of teases of vehicles the automaker plans to have on the market by 2022. Not all might make it. With nascent trade wars and the rise of populist nationalism threatening the intricate supply lines of the world’s most globalized industry, FCA, like other automakers, is facing one of the most challenging business environments in decades. And with Marchionne planning on stepping down soon, his successor might wish to place his own stamp on FCA’s future product strategy.

Marchionne made it clear FCA’s product push over the next five years will center around four key brands: Jeep, Ram, Maserati, and Alfa Romeo. “These four are our global brands,” he said bluntly. “They account for about 80 percent of earnings.”

Chrysler, Dodge, and Fiat scarcely received mention during the daylong presentation. Virtually every reference to the 62,000 minivans FCA will supply to self-driving technology developer Waymo described them simply as Pacifica Hybrids; only Marchionne used the “C” word when talking about the Pacifica. Once.

Dodge wasn’t mentioned at all, until the post-presentation Q&A session, when someone asked the inevitable question. Marchionne’s response? “Dodge is a North American brand.” He also hinted that to save money future Dodge vehicles might be developed off a heavily re-engineered version of the current LX architecture rather than move to the premium Giorgio platform than underpins the Alfa Romeo Giulia sedan and Stelvio SUV. Marchionne notes that although Chrysler will be a “people-mover” brand, Dodge will be a performance-oriented brand. Marchionne also confirmed a new Viper is not in the plan.

Other nuggets: Marchionne said talk of major sales volume for the Fiat brand in North America is “a waste of time.” Along the way, he announced the Punto, a Golf-sized hatchback, is to be discontinued, and that Fiat’s focus will be switched to hybrid and BEV powertrains for the 500 family and Panda in a bid to give the brand a more premium position in Europe. The Fiat 500e will sit on a dedicated electric platform. And Maserati boss Tim Kuniskis gave credence to rumors of an all-electric Ferrari supercar when he announced all future Maserati powertrains—including the high-performance three-motor BEV—would be supplied by Maranello.

Here’s what FCA is planning for Jeep, Ram, Alfa Romeo, and Maserati over the next five years.

 

JEEP

Here’s how much the automotive landscape is changing: Jeep boss Mike Manley never once used the term SUV during his presentation. To Manley and the rest of the on-message FCA senior management team, Jeeps are UVs—utility vehicles.

Why the semantics? Jeep is working on two vehicles, one the size of a Cherokee and the other the size of a Renegade, that combine the all-wheel-drive traction and configurable interior of a conventional SUV with the handling and dynamics of a car. These “urban UVs” will also feature a low roofline and what Manley calls “command-of-the-road” ride height.

Other new Jeep models in the pipeline include an all-new model smaller than the Renegade, plus the long-awaited Jeep midsize pickup, which, according to the rumor mill, will be called Scrambler and will arrive in April 2019. A three-row model will join the Grand Cherokee, a key move as 60 percent of that segment of the SUV market is three-row, Manley noted. Topping the expanded Jeep lineup and accompanying the Wagoneer will be the flagship Grand Wagoneer, which is expected to go on sale in the U.S. in 2020.

The Trailhawk (ultimate rock-crawling capability) and Trackhawk (ultimate on-road capability) variants of selected Jeep models have proven such sales successes that Jeep is introducing a third capability sub-brand, Deserthawk, that will be applied to Jeeps with high-speed off-road capability in sand. Manley expects Deserthawk models to account for up to 10 percent of total Jeep sales, delivering a $5,000 to $10,000 increase in transaction price.

Jeep is also going electric, with eight PHEV models on sale in the U.S. by 2022. There will be two basic formats. Vehicles with front-mounted engines and all-wheel drive/rear-wheel drive, such as Wrangler and Grand Cherokee, will feature an e-motor mounted between the internal combustion engine and the transmission that will allow low range rock-crawling in pure EV mode. Vehicles built around a front-wheel-drive architecture, such as the Renegade and Cherokee, will have a rear-mounted electric motor driving the rear wheels. Four BEV Jeeps will be available in China, including an all-electric version of the Grand Commander.

 

RAM

FCA calls it “The Raptor Effect.” With options and extras, the average transaction price of Ford’s desert-racer-spec F-150 is about $71,000, or a healthy $28,000 over the average F-150. What’s more, Raptor buyers are younger than the average F-150 buyer, and they earn twice the median income. To FCA product planners, that’s the definition of a market opportunity. So it’s no surprise the Raptor-fighting TRX, previewed as a concept at the Texas State Fair, has been greenlit for production.

The TRX will be the halo model of the Ram 1500 lineup. There is no official word on powertrains, but sources are suggesting an entry-level model with about 520 hp, while the top-line model could get a version of the 707-hp Hellcat V-8.

Also coming is an all-new Ram Heavy Duty, scheduled for launch in January 2019. The current truck is the oldest in the segment. FCA says the new model will offer a stronger diesel engine than any of its Ford or GM rivals.

The success of midsize pickups such as Chevy’s Colorado in the U.S. market has also been noted at FCA. But the midsize Ram pickup currently under development is also aimed at European, Asian, and South American markets, where the segment is booming. The midsize Ram will share its underpinnings with the similarly sized Jeep Scrambler, including the similar rear axle design and the availability of a hybrid powertrain.

 

ALFA ROMEO

“We underestimated the complexity of the industrial process, and we underestimated the reaction of our German competitors,” Marchionne said of Alfa Romeo, sales of which have been slower than expected. But FCA is doubling down on the storied Italian brand, with two new SUVs and two new sports cars—each reprising an iconic Alfa model name—joining the Giulia sedan and Stelvio SUV by 2022.

The all-new Alfa Romeo 8C will be a 700-plus-horsepower Acura NSX fighter, with a mid-mounted twin-turbo engine driving the rear wheels and an e-motor driving the fronts. This Alfa supercar’s chassis will be made from carbon fiber, and FCA says we can expect scintillating performance, with a projected 0–60-mph acceleration time of less than 3 seconds.

The Alfa Romeo GTV is a four-passenger coupe that will share its chassis structure and powertrains with the Giulia sedan. It will have sleeker, sexier sheetmetal and 50/50 weight distribution. Top-spec QV versions will have all-wheel drive and more than 600 horsepower courtesy of an e-motor mounted between the engine and transmission.

In terms of ensuring the brand’s long-term viability, however, the two new SUVs—one smaller than the Stelvio, the other larger—will be the most critical vehicles Alfa Romeo launches in the next five years. While the midsize premium SUV segment the Stelvio competes in is expected to grow from 1.6 million units sold last year to 2.2 million units by 2022, sales of compact and full-size premium SUVs are expected to grow to a total of 3 million units.

The smaller of the two Alfa SUVs will be the size of a Jeep Compass and is likely to share its platform architecture, which means transverse-mounted engines. The larger SUV will be built on the plus-sized Giorgio architecture shared with the next-gen Jeep Grand Cherokee. Both will be available with PHEV powertrains.

With three SUVs, two sports cars, the Giulia sedan, and a new front-wheel-drive Giulietta hatch for the European market, FCA aims to be selling 400,000 Alfa Romeos a year by 2022.

 

MASERATI

Maserati’s lineup will be entirely renewed by 2022, led by a refreshed Ghibli sedan and a redesigned Levante SUV, which will share its underpinnings with a redesigned Quattroporte sedan. The GranTurismo coupe and GranCabrio convertible will be replaced by coupe and convertible versions of the Alfieri, both of which will be built on a version of the Giorgio platform.

New to the Maserati lineup will be a Stelvio-sized SUV, which FCA hopes will help boost the brand’s overall sales to 100,000 vehicles a year by 2022.

Maserati will offer four BEV models, versions of the Quattroporte, Levante, and the Alfieri coupe and convertible, all marketed under the Maserati Blue label. The cars will feature three e-motors—one at the front axle, two at the rear—and all-wheel drive with active torque vectoring. Kuniskis said the electric-powered version of the Alfieri coupe will have a top speed of close to 200 mph and will accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in about 2 seconds.

“Some think we’re targeting Porsche, and some think we’re targeting Tesla,” Kuniskis said. “We’re targeting both.”



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