Let’s be honest. Chrysler is RIP. Today’s announcement that Chrysler has 30 days to make a deal with Fiat does nothing but forestall the inevitable. To get the Fiat deal done, creditors must allow Chrysler to default on loans. Why would they do that, if they simply force Chrysler into bankruptcy? After all, 10 cents on the dollar is better than nothing. So let’s assume that Chrysler is heading for that big Chapter 11 (or 7) in the sky. Now what?
I think it’s pretty safe to say that we won’t see anybody buy Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep lock, stock and pistons. Nope, the parts will be worth (marginally) more than the sum of the companies. Chrysler itself is worthless – the only two vehicles they have that are in anything close to what resembles demand are the Town & Country minivan and the 300 sedan. Neither is currently considered best-0f-breed. Chrysler can sink into the sunset with few tears from the great unwashed.
Dodge? Well, Dodge makes some great trucks. And some way cool muscle cars. And little else. The rest of their line (SUVs and whatever the hell you call the Nitro) is uninspired and undesired by consumers. The trucks/muscle cars might be an attractive brand for somebody (probably an Asian or Euro manufacturer), but only in a post-bankruptcy, get-out-of-unsustainable union contracts form. That brings us to Jeep.
Jeep is the crown jewel of the Chrysler portfolio. Based on competition, that’s not saying much, but even against all comers, Jeep is a formidable brand. With a storied history, generally well-focused brand message, and products that have earned firece loyalty from customers that consider themselves part of the “Jeep family,” Jeep is worth saving. In fact, most experts insist that Jeep is the only thing worth saving from the Chrysler mess.
But who’s to save this quintessentially American brand? Purists argue that it’s nothing short of blasphemous to allow Jeep to fall into the hands of foreigners. Nice try. Remember, Jeep was, up until a year or so ago, a German-American brand. Today it’s a Canadian brand. Would it be that much worse to see it survive, if the only way for it to do so would be for it to become an Indian, Italian, or Korean brand? I think not. (I draw the line at China buying Jeep, however.)
I think it’s a pretty safe bet that Jeep will survive. I’m less certain that it will survive with the current models intact – and that’s not a bad thing. Any buyer would be insane to mess with the Wrangler. It’s the one Grand Slam that Jeep has. The Grand Cherokee is a solid performer. The Liberty was a hit, but the recent redesign have beaten it with an ugly stick. The rest of the line is, at best, forgettable – at worst, disposable. Jeep would be a stronger brand killing off the Commander, the Compass, and yes, even the Patriot, and focusing on the Wrangler family, the Grand Cherokee, and the Liberty. I would, however, add one model – a pickup based on the Wrangler Unlimited. (No big stretch…they already make this beast – for the Egyptian military. Just do a domestic/commercial version and you’ve got a winner.)
Jeep can survive, as a smaller company – maybe even a small, independant company, that specializes in off-road-ready vehicles, as well as a classic American product. I hope and pray I’m right. Let’s hope that somebody steps up to the plate and does what it takes to make this happen. As far as Chrysler and Dodge goes…it’s been nice knowing you.