#FCA5: Marchionne Unveils 5-Year Plan for Fiat Chrysler Brands

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When Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne hatched the company’s first five-year plan in 2009, he was cut some slack because most constituencies were just happy Chrysler was still in business after going bankrupt.

But while sales for Chrysler and its brands in the U.S. have recovered far beyond the hopes of most of its executives, employees, and dealers at the time, the company has performed far less impressively where it’s going to count most for the long term: molding a family of solid and differentiated brands, each with product lineups that not only justify each marque’s existence but stand out on the vehicles’ respective merits as well.

So anticipation is high for Marchionne’s analyst day briefing today at Chrysler group HQ in Auburn Hills, Michigan (follow the conversation with #FCA5).

In addition to officially revealing the new Fiat Chrysler Automobiles corporate logo, Marchionne and his brand leaders will outline how FCA plans to transition from successful survivalist to transformed titan and ensure a long-term future in a global auto business that continues to get more competitive, detailing specific goals and sales targets across its marques.[more]

“Marchionne is capable, but there have been too many changes to his plans,” said Stephanie Brinley, a senior analyst at IHS Automotive. “Execution for some projects has been weak and disjointed; there are some holes to be filled.”

Expect Marchionne to highlight the No. 1 role he has in mind for the Jeep brand as a growth engine for the company, both in the U.S. and abroad, as it relies more and more on product development synergies with Fiat. The new Jeep Cherokee and Grand Cherokee have been hits, but Marchionne needs more major successes under the Jeep brand if he’s going to double its global sales to more than 1.5 million units a year by 2018, the goal cited by Automotive News.

Meanwhile, after several attempts in this direction, Marchionne is said to be planning on Tuesday to emphasize a revitalized Alfa Romeo brand as a pivotal part of Fiat Chrysler’s global expansion, including re-entry into the U.S. market, where the brand hasn’t been sold since the mid-1990s. Marchionne will be banking on creating a large dealer network from the start and selling Alfa as a luxury-performance brand.

“This is going to be an uphill struggle for the brand as they lack an identity with the American consumer,” Dave Sullivan, an AutoPacific analyst, told the Wall Street Journal.

While Marchionne will unveil plans for Fiat Chrysler’s other brands as well, some of those, too, face problems. Dodge still is known almost exclusively for throwback “muscle” cars such as Challenger and Avenger, and the CEO is expected to reinforce its positioning as a performance brand; but Dodge is losing out in other segments, where it can’t sell many Dodge Darts (small car) or minivans (Grand Caravan).

The Chrysler brand is another challenge, with its threadbare product lineup and not much to show for itself after five years except some great ad campaigns, including the “Imported from Detroit” Super Bowl effort. The new version of the Chrysler 200 sedan will benefit from its placement as an official sponsor for the returning (sixth season) of the 24 TV series Monday night on FOX, but the jury remains out on whether it can make long-term difference for Chrysler in the small-car segment that long has troubled the company.

“The Chrysler division has been in dire need of a solid brand definition,” independent auto analyst Michelle Krebs told the Detroit Free Press. “Every owner of Chrysler has struggled with what the Chrysler nameplate means. The division, if it is to exist in the future, is also in need of substantial new product.”

Marchionne also will spin his vision for Maserati, Ferrari, and Fiat, which gets some major marketing love of its own this week with a tie-in for the Fiat 500L with the upcoming Warner Bros. Godzilla movie in a new campaign (below), a car-chomping partnership that includes a spot-the-logo contest.

He will also talk up a brand that gives him the most solid ground these days: Ram, the pickup truck. If only every other brand in the Fiat Chrysler stable could become that solid.

• Connect with Dale on Twitter: @daledbuss

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