The year 2016 appears a pivotal one for Fiat-Chrysler in North America.
Although the decisions will be made before then, 2016 will be the apex of several product upgrades and plant sourcing moves that started in late 2010, one year after Fiat took part ownership in Chrysler, and continues to ramp-up to what will be a flourish of changes in 2016, based on information in the WardsAuto/AutomotiveCompass Global Production Forecast.
However, there are some open-ended questions regarding the Fiat-Chrysler landscape still to be answered pertaining to its manufacturing footprint and long-term brand strategy, especially the future of Dodge.
Not counting the sales-invigorating mid-cycle enhancements, such as those made three years ago to the Chrysler 200 and Dodge Avenger and last year's upgrades to the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Ram pickups, about 16% of Chrysler’s annual production volume has been renewed either through redesigns or new products since late 2010 when the auto maker started production of the Fiat 500 at Chrysler's Toluca, Mexico, plant.
Beginning with production of the new Cherokee this month at Toledo North, an additional 60% of its volume will be renewed by the end of 2016, with most of it coming in that year.
A couple more redesigns of existing products coming in 2017 will largely complete the engineering overhaul that started when Fiat first took an equity stake in Chrysler in 2009.
However, by the end of 2016, more than three-fourths of the production volume for Fiat-Chrysler’s cars and cross/utility vehicles will be based off the Fiat-engineered C/D-Evo, or CUSW, platform.
The CUSW platform underpins the current Dodge Dart built in the Belvidere, IL, plant, and the new Chrysler 100 coming to the plant in 2016. The next-generation Chrysler 200 and Dodge Journey/Fiat Freemont replacement, both to be built in Sterling Heights, MI, plus the Cherokee, all will come off that platform.
Also expected in 2016 are a redesigned Jeep Wrangler and a new Large Luxury Chrysler cross/utility vehicle, which starts production in Windsor, ON, Canada, one year after a redesigned Town & Country minivan rolls off the line.
Based on the Wards/AC outlook, Ram pickups are expected to begin a phase-in of newly engineered versions in 2016.
Aside from that detail, there are some open-ended questions. Most intriguing is the future of Dodge.
The brand will have no bread-and-butter midsize sedan after the Avenger ends production early next year, leaving a gaping hole in its portfolio, which already was severely trimmed by the decision to move the manufacturer’s pickups from Dodge to the recently created Ram brand.
Furthermore, industry sources tell Wards/AC that there will be more thinning of the Dodge ranks with at least two products already pegged to either migrate to the Chrysler brand or be discontinued.
Another unanswered question is what the auto maker plans to build at its Toluca plant once North American sourcing for the 500 switches to a Fiat plant in Poland in 2015, and the Journey replacement shifts to Sterling Heights.
Closing the plant is not likely. Fiat-Chrysler needs the capacity and it is still relatively inexpensive to assemble vehicles in Mexico. Mexico also is a good jumping board for exports to South America.
Putting the pieces together, a likely candidate for Toluca is a Fiat-based Jeep product, probably off the CUSW platform, slotted in the market between the new Jeep B-size CUV expected to be coming from Italy in 2015, and the C/D-size Cherokee.
Such a vehicle could be considered as a replacement for the Jeep Compass and Patriot, two very similar CUVs built off the same platform in Belvidere. Coincidently, the production run of the Compass/Patriot, initially slated to be terminated from the lineup next year, has been extended to 2015, the same year the 500 ends at Toluca. Also, the Compass is exported to South America, and it is feasible a Mexico-built Jeep could replace it there.
Whatever is going on behind the scenes at Fiat-Chrysler, including the possibility of further culling, or even getting rid of the Dodge brand, expect the string of news-making announcements that began when Fiat took a stake in Chrysler four years ago to continue. But 2016 looks like the year all the pieces will more-or-less be in place.