FCA volume slid 11 percent in August, a loss of nearly 21,000 sales, as retail and fleet volume declined. The decreases were most keenly felt at Jeep and Chrysler, which tumbled 15 percent and 33 percent, respectively. But Dodge, Ram, and Fiat sales also reported losses compared with August 2016.
More troubling than the poor August results, however, is the predictability of August’s results. FCA’s disappointing trendline began in September 2016. Year-over-year, FCA lost 187,000 sales over the last 12 months.
Of course, partly to blame for FCA’s malaise is the overall new vehicle market’s modest downturn. In each of the last eight months, FCA declined as the U.S. new vehicle market declined. The difference? FCA began losing sales as the U.S. auto industry gained thousands of sales at the tail end of 2016, and FCA’s decline is far more severe than the market at large.
Year-to-date, the U.S. auto market is off 2016’s record pace by just 3 percent. FCA, formerly Chrysler Group, was selling at its best rate in more than a decade last year, but is off that pace by 8 percent in 2017.
Chief among the reasons for Fiat Chrysler’s consistent slowdown is a major transition period at Jeep. With the JK Wrangler at the end of its line, sales growth in that model line has been nonexistent in 2017. The old Cherokee, not regarded as a class leader when it was new four years ago, is certainly not the leader of the pack now — Cherokee sales are down 25 percent this year and plunged 50 percent in August. The Patriot’s discontinuation and new Compass’s arrival resulted in a 70,646-unit loss through the first two-thirds of 2017. The Renegade’s 0.5-percent uptick is inconsequential. Only the Grand Cherokee’s 17-percent rise stands out as a meaningful positive.
Fortunately for FCA, these Jeep outcomes are expected to shift as the new Wrangler comes on board and the first-gen Compass/Patriot are forgotten. Moreover, these Jeep outcomes were not unanticipated. FCA has altered its fleet sales strategy, and that resulted in a 66-percent drop in Jeep fleet volume in August, for instance.Then again, Jeep isn’t the only FCA brand reporting sharp declines. Chrysler, which is now just a two-model brand, reported a modest 12,652 total sales in August, a one-third drop from the same period a year ago. Chrysler brand car sales plunged 47 percent in August as the 200’s disappearance approaches completion and as 300 sales continue to dive. The bigger sedan reported a 23-percent August drop. Chrysler minivan sales, meanwhile, are down 9 percent this year as the brand moves into the more premium Pacifica phase, away from the Town & Country.
Fiat’s U.S. volume is down 14 percent this year. Dodge is off 5 percent. Ram sales, bolstered by a high-volume pickup truck line in a truck-friendly market, are up 5 percent this year, though the brand posted a marginal decline over the July/August period.
Of course, Alfa Romeo sales are on the rise, soaring 2,981 percent in August. (To 1,140 total sales.)
Alfa Romeo’s rise may represent a sliver of a silver lining, but FCA’s market share has nevertheless fallen from 13.0 percent during 2016’s first eight months to 12.4 percent in 2017.
[Images: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles]