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What A Future FCA-GM Might Look Like

We Gaze Into Our Crystal Ball And Ask, “What If?”

Aug 31, 2015
Over the past week, the Interwebs have been abuzz with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) CEO Sergio Marchionne and his continued insistence on consolidation within the auto industry and specifically a hypothetical merger between FCA and General Motors. GM has rebuffed Marchionne’s advancements multiple times, but that hasn’t dissuaded the Italian-Canadian from holding talks with financial interests behind the scenes about putting together a deal. While we personally feel a full-fledged merger of the two automotive titans is unlikely, who could have predicted DaimlerChrysler or FCA, for that matter? The whole rationale for a merger in the first place is finding economies of scale, and parts-sharing on a massive level. While we don’t expect any of GM or FCA’s current brands to disappear entirely, we could see individual models dropped or merged onto a common platform. Below are some of our predictions for what a combined FCA/GM truck and SUV lineup might look like.
Chrysler used to be Chrysler Corp’s quasi-luxury brand, with the 300 sedan making a credible attempt at a near-luxury fullsize sedan. The Aspen faux-Escalade was perhaps a bit less convincing. We expect the combined entity to keep its flagship luxury brand, although we could see some platform sharing. The industry is moving toward crossovers, even in the luxury segment, and we could see some rationalization at some point between the XT5 and Durango or Cadillac gaining a rear-drive crossover shared with Dodge or Chrysler. Cadillac’s popular, profitable Escalade franchise will comfortably remain part of the brand’s lineup for the foreseeable future.
The big question for both FCA and GM is how they will rationalize their truck lineups. Like all the domestic automakers, fullsize trucks are their company’s cash cows. Consolidation and platform sharing could mean even fatter profits for the brands. Both FCA and GM have competitive and popular fullsize trucks. However, there are currently some major distinctions and differences between the two that will be interesting to work out. GM’s trucks have the traditional leaf spring rear suspension, a simple, rugged and proven setup that has underpinned trucks practically since their inception. The 1/2-ton and 3/4-ton Rams have rear coil springs, which generally offer a smoother ride but at a slight sacrifice in towing and payload capacity.
Photo 2/5   |   2015 Chevrolet Tahoe Z71 Front Three Quarter
The Ram brand may lobby to keep the rear coils/airbags a brand exclusive, but expect a modular rear suspension setup that could accommodate leafs or coils with minor changes to simplify manufacturing. In terms of engines, the likely winner will be GM’s fifth-generation small-block V-8. Although the revived Hemi has strong name recognition with the Mopar faithful, the Gen V is a more modern, sophisticated engine designed with future smog and fuel economy standards in mind. It’s possible the Mopar brands might get a version with unique heads that they can claim are “hemispherical” heads, but expect engine management and basic architecture to be GM. However, considering the Hemi V-8 is made in low-cost Mexico and the Gen V is made by UAW workers in upstate New York, some or all of the production could go to Mexico. Transmissions would likely go to the forthcoming jointly-developed Ford/GM 10-speed automatic on 1/2-ton models.
As mentioned earlier, Chrysler could get a version of the popular GM body-on-frame SUV, but it’s likely it would go to a more car-based crossover platform, possibly shared with the next-generation Acadia/Enclave/Traverse. Some of the GM brands could also get a version of Chrysler’s popular minivan platform, which is rumored to get a plug-in hybrid option for the next generation.
With FCA’s core truck offerings broken off into the Ram brand in 2009, Dodge is left with relatively few “truck” models, save for the Journey and Durango. The Journey is an obvious candidate to be merged onto a GM platform, likely a long-wheelbase version of the next-generation Equinox/Terrain. The seven-passenger capacity of the Journey has been a big selling point on the model, which neither of the GM models have had since inception. A slightly more uncertain future faces the Durango. Although it has received critical praise for its relatively sporty driving dynamics, it offers neither the ultimate utility or good fuel economy (at least in V-8 trim) of the GM fullsizers. The Durango’s sales numbers are also a fraction of those of the GM fullsize triplets. It would likely not survive a merger.
Expect GMC to maintain its premium status among the three predominant truck brands. However, all indications are that it will be a consumer brand going forward (despite its “Professional Grade” marketing). With Chevrolet covering the entry-level and “value” market segments, expect ever more opulent and expensive trim levels. The big question for the truck brands is if there’s room for two HD diesel engines going forward.
Photo 3/5   |   2016 GMC Sierra Denali Front Three Quarter
Ram occupies an interesting position among the rationalized truck brands. Seen as the innovator in the industry with its rear coil springs, the first to bring an eight-speed automatic to market, and the first with a 1/2-ton diesel in the last two decades, Ram will likely continue to burnish its “pure truck” image. However, the $64,000 question is whether there is room for both the Duramax and the Cummins in the HD truck lineup. Ram has built substantial brand equity by offering the Cummins for the last 25 years. The Duramax has a similarly strong following among GM fans, but of the two, the Cummins probably has more status among HD truck buyers. There are packaging and weight advantages to the more compact, lighter-weight Duramax, compared to the heavy, bulky Cummins. Also, since the Duramax is developed and financed in-house compared to the Cummins, it likely has a cost advantage. Another far-fetched scenario is that the combined FCA/GM make a move to buy Cummins outright, giving it an in-house advantage.
Photo 4/5   |   2015 Ram 2500 Laramie Limited Crew Cab 4x4 Heavy Duty Front End
There’s little question Jeep is FCA’s star player right now. It is the most international brand in scope and ambition, with production and sales in several critical, growing markets right now, including Asia, Latin America, and other developing regions. It also has some models that the product planners at Chevrolet and GMC are secretly probably salivating over as potential line additions. GMC would likely love to have some version of the Wrangler in its showrooms, and a GMC version of the Renegade would give the brand a tough, affordable cute-ute that stands out among the more car-like offerings in the marketplace. It seems development of the Grand Wagoneer is well underway, and its unlikely it would be scrapped in favor of a Tahoe/Yukon based model. There’s a high likelihood Ram would receive a version of GM’s fullsize body-on-frame SUV, leaving room for a distinct premium fullsize SUV for Jeep.
Photo 5/5   |   2015 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Freedom Edition Front Three Quarter



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