From Citroën to Dodge, meet the Stellantis family of vehicles
The trans-Atlantic merger of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV and Groupe PSA of France cements an industry-leading 14 brands under one roof, eclipsing Volkswagen AG's 12.
But don't expect to see a Peugeot 5008 or Citroën C4 in American showrooms anytime soon. Or Ram pickup trucks and Dodge Hellcats prowling the streets of Paris.
Industry analysts say the merger will continue to accelerate the globalization of Jeep, which FCA has transformed into one of the world's most recognizable SUV brands. But otherwise, the merger positions Stellantis to have strong product lineups on two continents — with potential for growth on a third, China.
Engineering teams can then take advantage of a bigger toolbox to share vehicle platforms and components — especially electrification at a time when governments are mandating vehicle powertrains.
Translation: you may never see that Peugeot in the U.S. — but you might see its chassis and electric motors underpinning a new Dodge SUV.
That stands in contrast to FCA's 2009 merger — rushed on a political timeline as the Obama administration chaperoned the marriage of Italy's Fiat SpA and Auburn Hills, Mich.-based Chrysler Group amid the global financial meltdown. Shaped by Washington predictions of an industry shift to small, high-mpg small sedans, Fiat introduced a lineup of wee cars and crossovers that struggled to gain traction in a U.S. market that accelerated in the opposite direction: towards bigger SUVs.
"The Washington narrative was that Detroit didn't know how to make small cars," IHS Markit senior auto analyst Stephanie Brinley said in an interview. "Time was critically important because Fiat had to meet so many requirements in order to buy Chrysler out of bankruptcy."
Chief among those promises was that Fiat had to help Chrysler produce a 40-mpg car. The result was the sippy Dodge Dart sedan, which rotted on dealer lots. The 30 mpg Fiat 500 suffered the same fate.
"The PSA-FCA merger is different," smiles Brinley. She says it's significant that the amorphous Stellantis name has been picked — a moniker untethered to any one brand. "They chose a name with the premise that this is a new, global company."
A PSA Group spokesperson says that the company has not issued any plans for product synergies. While Peugeot has had eyes on the U.S. market, analysts agree Stellantis is unlikely to follow in Fiat's footsteps. Instead of trying to introduce Americans to a French brand, Stellantis is more likely to shore up existing products like Dodge and Chrysler.
"Prior to Stellantis, PSA was looking to bring a brand here, probably Peugeot," said Autopacific analyst Ed Kim. "But with the merger there will be less pressure to bring brands to the U.S." Instead, they might use Peugeot platforms to expand the Chrysler brand, which has been starved for attention here."
Veteran industry watcher John McElroy of Autoline agrees: "I think PSA would be mad to try and launch either of the Peugeot and Citroën brands in the U.S. market. It would cost them a fortune to even teach Americans how to pronounce the names," he said in an interview. Steallantis CEO "Carlos Tavares would be better off rebuilding the Chrysler and Dodge brands using Peugeot/Citroën cars and CUVs. The franchises already exist and customers wouldn't even know that they were simply rebadged vehicles."
Kim speculates that Peugeot platforms for its 508 sedan and 5008 might ultimately benefit Chrysler if the Detroit brand wants to expand. "Citroën is a little out there for mainstream U.S. consumers, but Peugeot is basically saleable here as an upscale chassis like Acura or Buick."
Not that Stellantis doesn't have some serious trans-national ambitions. Even before the merger, PSA and FCA have partnered on commercial vans. The Ram ProMaster shares its chassis with Peugeot Boxer and Citroën Jumper full-size vans.
And then there's Jeep, the money-making heart of Fiat Chrysler.
A brand synonymous with SUVs, it has already taken root in Europe, which has embraced high-riding utility like their Yankee cousins. But given Europe's lofty fuel prices and heavy taxation, the best-selling Jeeps in the U.S. — Grand Cherokee, Wrangler, and Cherokee — are of little interest. Instead, subcompact Compass and Renegade SUVs are in vogue, sold with sippy diesel and 3-cylinder engines not found here.
The best-selling Peugeots and Citroëns overseas are also wee crossovers with little future in the US market. They've created synergies with Opel — General Motors Co.'s ex-German brand that PSA Group acquired in 2017. Kim says that the Opel Grandland and Peugeot 3008 share a platform. As do the Opel Mokka, Citroën DS 3 Crossback, and Peugeot 2008.
Opel is a cautionary tale when it comes to bringing European platforms across the pond. Under GM's watch, Opel cars were rebadged as Cadillacs (the 1982-88 Cimarron) and Buicks (the 2018-2020 Regal Sportback and TourX wagon) with poor results.
So is FCA's struggle to grow legendary names like Alfa Romeo and Maserati in the U.S. luxury market. PSA brings little to the bling ball except Citroën's small DS luxury division.
Rather than rebadging autos, Stellantis is more likely to share technologies with the U.S. market. Nearly every major market now has government regulations mandating the phase-out of gas engines.
"The biggest opportunity is for PSA to share its electrification technology," said Kim. "They have been forward thinking in Europe on EVs, while FCA has been content to follow in the U.S. market."
With Jeep getting into plug-ins with the 2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe, industry experts say cooperation with its European partners makes a lot of sense. Peugeot currently offers a hatchback 2008 (similar in size to the Chevy Bolt EV) while Citroën boasts a compact, battery-powered e-C4 crossover.
It's unclear, however, how PSA's green tech would help North American-specific brands like Ram or Dodge — two nameplates that prioritize power rather than efficiency prized in Europe. Dodge told The Detroit News this year that it is working on EVs with performance to rival its fire-breathing V-8 models.
"The Dodge brand is a little anachronistic," says Kim. "V-8 power gives the brand a ton of attention. But it's not a brand position they can rely on forever. There's a lot of opportunity to apply electrification to Dodge brand for performance. That's something that PSA might be able to help with."
With the next generation of Dodge cars planned to stay on its North American platform, however, such synergies are a ways away. Analysts expect Stellantis will initially focus on volume models and common platforms.
"Stallantis is a new company and I hope that it looks at it that way," says IHS's Brinley. "They have time to generate a cohesive product strategy. They need to execute a vision with the brands they have."
She points to VW as a company that has successfully integrated multiple brands, from mainstream VW to premium Audi to Porsche and Lamborghini supercars.
"VW Group has done it well," says Brinley. "All the brands work together, making it easy for consumers to move between the brands."
Stories that may interest you
The viral pandemic has triggered a cascade of price hikes throughout America’s auto industry — a surge that has made both new and used vehicles unaffordable for many
With a base price of $79,900, the Taycan gives the lie to the claim that electric cars must inevitably cost more than comparable gasoline-powered vehicles.
Hyundai Motor Co.'s recall of nearly 82,000 electric vehicles highlights how costly the shift to the industry's new frontier can be for all the automakers piling in, to both their balance sheets and their brands.