Fiat has put a hit out on Chrysler. Kissed both cheeks — then one right on the lips.
Tonight, you sleep with the fishes.
Well, maybe not tonight. But about three years from now. In 2020.
It will be that long — at least — until Fiat commits any cash to a major redesign of Chrysler’s aging rear-drive 300 sedan.
Two “sources” within the Italian automotive combine told the trade publication Automotive News this evil news — sotto voce — last week.
Which means the same evil news for Dodge’s also aging Charger sedan and Challenger coupe.
Which is really bad news, because all share a common “platform” — the industry-speak term for a chassis/frame. All three received their last major update back in 2011 — already six years in the rearview. By 2020, they will have been basically the same car for nearly 10 years.
Which means, they probably aren’t going to be updated. Which means it is likely they are going to be cancelled.
No car company leaves a car to rot on the vine like this unless they’ve already decided there is no future for that car.
In which case, there appears to be no future for Chrysler.
As of 2017, it has just two models to offer buyers and only one of them — the Pacifica minivan — is remotely new. The 200 sedan has already been “hit” — cancelled prematurely after less than three years on the market (and despite selling well; see here for more about that).
Which leaves the 300.
It’s a death sentence for Chrysler.
Almost nothing to sell — and what they have to sell is nothing new. Not next year. Not the year after that. Or the next year.
By which time, you should be able to get a really good deal on a “new” 2018 Chrysler 300 or Dodge Charger or Challenger.
These are not unpopular cars. Of course, the same was true of the 200. But the 300 and Charger and Challenger are the only cars still available with rear-wheel-drive and V8 power at a price point average Americans can afford.
And there you have your answer.
It’s not Fiat that’s putting the cement shoes on Chrysler.
The “contract” being the federal government’s Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency (CAFE) mandates.
These are set to go up to a demented 50-plus MPG — unless Trump intervenes — by model year 2025. And the only way V8 (and V6) powered large sedans and coupes like the 300, Charger and Challenger are going to come within tire iron-throwing distance of 50-something MPG is by riding on a flatbed.
One powered by a Prius.
It’s not surprising that Fiat — a predominantly European cartel that specializes in tiny, high-economy cars, isn’t going to commit the funds to extend the production run of big, not-so-economical cars which will drag its overall CAFE numbers down like seawater did the Titanic. Plus they will be a hard sell to average Americans on account of the “gas guzzler” fines EPA will hit the company with, which will be tacked onto the sticker price of the offending vehicles. Which means they’d sell fewer.
This will cost Fiat money.
Which matters to a car company.
Remember: It’s Fiat Chrysler. The money comes from Italy, ultimately — not Detroit.
So — unless the fuel economy fatwas are repealed … it is last call.
You have maybe three years to buy one of the last American cars.
Which Fiat never had much enthusiasm for, regardless.
Though the Italians own the company, the 300/Charger/Challenger predate the capo regime. Fiat inherited them — like the Axis powers inherited the French fleet after the surrender at Compiègne. Chrysler was desperate — having been sucked dry of cash by ex-partner Mercedes-Benz. Fiat saw an opportunity to gain access — not to the fleet — but to Chrysler’s dealer network.
The 300/Charger/Challenger were war booty, so to speak.
The Italian overlords were glad to rake in the coin for as long as these cars sold well. But committing coin to updating them when there exists the real likelihood of it costing them more coin than they’d gain… well… you see the problem.
The rear-drive platform on which these big handsome lugs are built is the kind of platform most American cars used to be built on. But which almost none are built on any longer, except for a handful of high-dollar units like Cadillacs (and those are now almost entirely V8-free).
Because of CAFE.
Everything else that’s affordable (because CAFE-compliant or at least friendly) is front-wheel-drive and — typically — powered by a small, turbocharged four cylinder engine.
The people who can still afford to spend $40,000 and more will still be able to buy rear-drive cars (and for another $10k or so, a rear-drive car with a V8). These cars will be built in small batches by prestige-brand manufacturers (Benz, BMW, etc.) who don’t have to sweat CAFE because their customers don’t sweat the MSRP.
But Chrysler is an odd duck. It is the only brand selling rear-drive (and V8s) in large numbers — and for a sum still small enough to be within financing range of an average person with an OK job.
So long as that remains true — the part about being within financing range — average Americans will continue to buy cars like the 300, the Charger and Challenger. But when CAFE compliance costs (and gas guzzler taxes) push the sticker up to par with the prestige-branded stuff, it’s not going to work.
Fiat realizes this.
It’s why the public announcement (by proxy and off-record but nonetheless done very deliberately) that nothing much will be done to update any of these cars before at least 2020.
At which time they will likely be retired, for good.
It’s nothing personal.
It’s just business.