Jeep Is the Smiling Mask Hiding FCA’s Frowny Face

#hashtags: #Jeep #FCA

Total Fiat Chrysler Automobiles volume is up six percent this year thanks to record sales at Jeep, FCA’s top-selling outlet. However, despite that wave of Jeep-directed affection in the U.S., sales at the company’s other brands have fallen two percent through the first nine months of 2015. Even in September, an extraordinarily high-volume month for the U.S. auto industry, a month in which sales shot up 15 percent compared with the same period one year earlier, FCA’s non-Jeep marques posted only a modest one percent increase. Jeep’s 40 percent surge to more than 77,000 sales produced a 14 percent overall uptick for FCA’s U.S. operations, which includes Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, and Ram plus Fiat and Alfa Romeo. Jeep’s own stable of seven SUVs and crossovers generated 22,000 more sales in September 2015 than in September 2014; more than 116,000 extra sales through the first three-quarters of 2015. The best-selling Cherokee’s continued growth — sales are up 26 percent this year — sets the pace for Jeep as Wranglers are leaving showrooms at a record pace; as the Grand Cherokee continues to post modest growth; as the entry-level lineup has been bolstered by the Renegade’s arrival. Yet at Fiat, where the boxy Renegade’s curvy 500X sibling is stealing the 500L’s lunch, brand-wide sales are down 10 percent in 2015. For every 11 Renegades sold by Jeep, Fiat is selling just the one 500X. Inventory is piling up. At the beginning of September, Automotive News reports that FCA had a 193-day supply of the 500X. Cars.com now lists more than 5,100 500Xs in their inventory. The company sold only 1,133 500Xs in September, the model’s best month yet. Sales of the best-selling Fiat, the 500, are down 20 percent this year after falling nine percent through the first nine months of 2014 and 11 percent one year earlier. The always unpopular 500L, meanwhile, has fallen 54 percent since June, when 500X availability began ramping up. Elsewhere at FCA, the automaker’s U.S. volume is sorely impacted by the loss of tens of thousands of minivan sales. During and after the temporary retooling shut down at FCA’s minivan plant in Windosr, Ontario, sales of the Town & Country and Grand Caravan plunged. Through the first three-quarters of 2015, the duo is down 41 percent. With a loss of 48,207 Avenger sales – all of which were made up for by the Chrysler 200’s 96 percent improvement – and the Grand Caravan’s sharp decline, the Dodge brand has tumbled 14 percent in 2015. Even in a pickup-friendly atmosphere, FCA’s best-selling Ram product line has seen its rate of growth grind to a halt in the second half of 2015. Over the last four months, Ram P/U sales have risen just one percent after climbing four percent in the first half of 2015. Ram sales decreased, albeit by only a handful of units, as U.S. pickup truck sales jumped 11 percent in September. Among full-size trucks, Ram market share slid from 21.1 percent in September 2014 to 19.4 percent in September 2015; from 21.3 percent to 20.7 percent over the first three-quarters of 2015, year-over-year. There are many concerns about the direction of FCA: whether an obsession over mergers is healthy, whether a one-minivan method is necessary, what the future holds for a company which generates only a quarter of their U.S. sales with passenger cars. Yet there’s no doubt that Jeep’s wild success, and the consistent means by which the brand locates greater success with each new vehicle launch, masks many of those concerns. Just five years ago, Jeep was only carrying 27 percent of the Chrysler Group’s U.S. sales load. Now, nearly four out of every ten FCA/Chrysler Group products sold in the United States are Jeeps, a figure which only stands to rise as Jeep’s surge continues and FCA’s other products fail to generate growth. Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures. Follow on Twitter @goodcarbadcar and on Facebook.