Why Stellantis needs Chrysler

Greg Migliore
·4 min read

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Stellantis has a secret weapon. It’s called Chrysler. Rumors swirled this year that the 96-year-old namesake brand of the former Chrysler Corp. could be on the chopping block, but Stellantis CEO Carlos Tavares promptly shot them down. Now what?

The brand has three nameplates: the 300 sedan, the Pacifica minivan and Voyager minivan, which is just an entry-level version of the Pacifica. Sedans and vans are not high priorities for most automakers, but they work for Chrysler. And because it is such a small brand, it has great opportunity.

Consider the existing product line:

The Pacifica is one of the best minivans you can buy. Stellantis has a lot of brands, but it doesn’t have that many singular products that are at or near the top of their segments. The Pacifica is good, but the Pacifica Hybrid is unmatched. It’s an affordable, plug-in electric minivan that’s efficient and functional. There’s nothing else like it on the market.

The 300 is ancient, and unlike its platform mate, the highly evolved Dodge Charger, the 300 has languished. The 300 is still a decent premium sedan, but it’s gone from trendsetter to afterthought. Chrysler needs a new 300 that’s different from the Charger and offers some kind of premium proposition. In this view, a rear-wheel-drive flagship that’s performance-oriented but civilized would work. The existing formula, essentially, just updated. There’s a lot of equity in the 300 nameplate, and frankly the Chrysler brand needs vehicles, so killing this sedan doesn’t make a lot of sense. Find an identity and make it work.

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A revitalized 300 and a winning Pacifica buy some time. Then?

Just two more vehicles would make Chrysler considerably stronger. Resist the urge to go with a sports car, which would drain time and resources. Did the Crossfire do anything for Chrysler? Even if they nail it, it’s still a niche vehicle. Instead, go for the obvious — but make it interesting. A midsize crossover with an amazing interior and a plug-in powertrain, like the Lincoln Aviator, would do the trick. Offer two- and three-row variants. This might bump up against Jeep and its Wagoneer family. Don’t worry, Jeep will be fine. This is about resuscitating Chrysler. Do something clever with the suspension (again, like the Aviator and its Mustang-derived chassis) or add some kind of conversation-starting technology, like Volvo’s safety features.

The other model should be all-electric. Hyundai, Nissan, Chevy, Volkswagen, Ford and others are already in the EV space with a mainstream model. Dust off the best name or make up a new one, give it competitive performance and style the hell out of it. Make the Chrysler version of the Audi E-Tron GT and Porsche Taycan. An alternate scenario: make this the new 300. A new SUV and EV, alongside the Pacifica, might be enough to make Chrysler competitive with just three vehicle lines.

Let’s take a step back. A premium brand is more than a luxury for most modern automakers. It provides higher margins and an image halo. Though Chrysler is small based on volume (110,464 sales in 2020, down 13%), there’s still critical mass.

That said, a viable Chrysler isn’t absolutely essential for a thriving Stellantis. The U.S. market is saturated. The company could make up ground (and profits) in other areas with products from its other brands. That would be unwise.

But there’s a deeper reason for fortifying Chrysler. The name. The Stellantis moniker is a bit of a punchline in automotive circles, and the average American car buyer has no idea what it is. The optics of closing the Chrysler brand would be bad for the company. Most people don’t make the distinction between the Chrysler brand (or Ford, VW or Toyota) and their broader companies. Close Chrysler and you’re confusing people, plus you’ve got a lot of Jeep and Dodge dealers with floor space to fill.

This is a measured approach to rebuilding Chrysler. It’s about some risk and ambition -- the hypothetical ‘Taycan-fighting’ EV -- and a lot of good sense. Two of the other proposed models already exist and fourth could be a clever Jeep derivative. It’s also about not making a mistake. Shuttering the Chrysler brand would be one.

Stellantis doesn’t need my advice, but the argument is simple: There’s a compelling case for Chrysler.

Greg Migliore is editor-in-chief of Autoblog. Follow him on Twitter at @gregmigliore.