Detroit Auto Show: Chrysler goes Euro

Posted by: David Welch on January 12, 2010

lancia2.jpg

There’s no doubt about it. Chrysler brand is going Euro. While the struggling carmaker didn’t have a press conference to unveil new models at the Detroit auto show, they did put up one new idea on their show stand. Chrysler—or more appropriately Fiat-Chrysler—took the Delta hatchback from Fiat’s tony European Lancia brand, fashioned a Chrysler brand nose and grille on it and put it out there to get feedback at the show.

It’s not necessarily for production, Olivier Francois, the French head of Chrysler brand told me. It’s really an exercise to show where the Chrysler brand is headed. And it looks like Chrysler’s namesake brand will get a heavy dose of European flair. In a round table meeting with the motoring press, Fiat-Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne said that in a few years, the product lines for Chrysler and Lancia will be married up. That means the Chrysler brand will soon be selling Lancia’s premium sedans, coupes and hatchbacks. Lancia could get Chrysler vehicles like the 300 sedan or Town and Country minivan to sell in Europe. “On Chrysler-Lancia, these are two brands that will share completely a common destiny,” Marchionne said. “They will share completely their product portfolio.”

That’s not the only way the Italians are bringing European culture to Chrysler. Fiat-Chrysler’s auto show stand turned heads and generated buzz at the auto show with leggy, scantily-clad models. The Lancia–Chrysler concept car was accompanied by models wearing gold-toned mini dresses that covered the bare minimum. The tiny Fiat 500 was surrounded by models strutting around in thigh-high leather go-go boots. It wasn’t in poor taste, but it is more risqué than Americans have seen at the Detroit auto show for many years. That kind of thing is a mainstay at venues like the Paris Auto Show. Not so in America’s industrial heartland. Francois told me that he wasn’t trying to sex it up. That’s just what he does in Europe. Says Francois: “I’m doing here what I know from there.”

The models turned heads, but giving Chrysler some allure will be a bigger challenge than sparking chatter among coffee-addled automotive writers. Dressing Lancia cars up as a Chrysler models will be a head snap. The brand that sells the gangsterish 300 sedan, retro PT Cruiser and posh Town and Country would then get small luxury cars designed for Europeans. Jeremy Anwyl, CEO of Edmunds.com, says the idea isn’t completely daft for the Chrysler brand because it doesn’t really have much of an image. That gives the Italians a clean canvas. A slate of Lancia models could help it start anew, he said. He has a real point.

But the Town and Country, 300 and PT Cruiser all have one thing (and only one thing) in common. They make very American statements. A Lancia with a Chrysler grille does not. On a positive note, I think the car looked pretty good. But the brand will get a makeover that will be a real departure from what most Americans think of Chrysler. The cars will need to have some substance to make it work.

Reader Comments

Mountain_Villager

January 12, 2010 7:46 PM

I have just bought a Chrysler Concorde LXI - a clean capable and aerodynamic design, comparatively light and efficient with a French flair from its predecessor, the Renault Premier. This design was the high point for Chrysler, widely admired until it lost its handling and sleek looks. I was disappointed when Renault did not opt to purchase the now lumbering American company but this beautiful Delta from the "Lancia Connection" looks fascinating. I surely hope it doesn't have to become a lumber wagon to garner American customers, the Concorde wasn't and was a hit for a time. It is still a timeless classic statement of what a fine car can be and remain affordable. The Lancia Delta has that potential too, if there are enough discerning customers in Chrysler's court!

Dylan

January 12, 2010 9:47 PM

LAME !!!! I understand that they are coming off a 47 year sales low, but really ? this is all you could come up with really ? with all your r&d THIS is what you guys came up with ? I

pedro

January 12, 2010 9:51 PM

I THINK THAT CHRYSLER SHOULD MAINTAIN ITS
ESSENCE AS AN AMERICAN BRAND THAT STILL MAKES BIG WONDERFUL AND MOST OF ALL POWERFUL CARS

IAH

January 13, 2010 8:07 AM

Any particular reason you couldn't tell us a little more about the Chrysler/Lancia specs? All this talk about models and image is irrelevent.

Frank A NYC

January 13, 2010 8:40 AM

Chrysler clearly had the best models. As for the cars, well, Chrysler=Lancia is too painful to think about. Just kill the brand already, must they torture the few remaining Mopar fans?

Schmeltz

January 13, 2010 9:20 AM

The Lancia, urh Chrysler shown is not a bad looking car standing alone on a show floor. But Fiat Chrysler needs to consider how it would do in the real world marketplace before jumping into the pond. What cars would be its competition? Lincoln, Cadillac, German or Asian luxury marques? In that world, I think this car would be eaten alive. Besides that, it doesn't help to say to most people that it is based off of a Lancia either. "What's a Lancia?" Most Americans struggle to even know what a Fiat is, let alone a more obscure European brand like this. I'm not saying the idea of re-badging Lancias as Chryslers is abhorrent, or destined to fail, but clearly they have their work cut out for them if this is to ever succeed.

GM Daughter

January 13, 2010 2:28 PM

The real problem is that Daimler Benz and Cerberus Captial gutted Chrysler's design program. The only new models Chrysler's gonna have for awhile are borrowed from someone else. Is Marchionne going to dedicate a design team to making "American" models? Probably not.

Joe W

January 13, 2010 2:43 PM

I'd buy one in a heart beat.It's a gorgeous car. Open your eyes America.

david Kiley

January 13, 2010 3:24 PM

It's the best looking Chrysler since the 300.

Tom Paine

January 13, 2010 3:45 PM

An interesting idea but one perhaps born of desperation. Lancia is of zero consequence in Europe--it sold 103,000 units in 2008, of which 93,000 were sold in Italy! This will not be the lodestar to pull Chrysler out of its terminal death spiral but I guess they had to have something to show in Detroit.

Lauren

January 14, 2010 10:42 AM

I actually quite like this model, it seems a little more refined and sophisticated than many of Chrysler's more ostentations designs.

A good start, I would say!

Lauren
http://theblogbaboutcars.com

ps

January 14, 2010 8:37 PM

Took me darned near a half hour to nail that Blue Ribbon on that EYE-talian car grill. Maybe Chrysler can badge engineer like GM now. Did wonders with the Saab-aru, don't ya think?

Auto

January 15, 2010 4:29 PM

Looks decent

Joe B

January 18, 2010 11:57 AM

Sexy good looks. Quality, reliability, performance, service?????

Ballbuster

January 19, 2010 3:11 AM

Chrysler is dead. After a decent burial service and eulogy, its coffin nailed shut, the corpse was shipped off to Italia for cremation. With the passage of time, all that was lost is forgotten but for faded sentimental photographs reminding the auto world what might have or could have been. Chryser's reappearance at the Detroit autoshow is but an awkward effigy or a murky apparition invoking memory past. Once upon a time in Detroit, the automobile industrialists changed the auto world with each inauguration of new cars. Each new car was more than just transportation cloaked in fancy sheet metal. It was a showcase of new technology, ingenuity, and creativity. In time the old decrepit money changers ascended to the boardroom attracted by the wealth and glamour, and using their treacherous stratagem displaced the vitality of the industrialist. Resting awkwardly on Italian soil, the epitaph of Chrysler's tombstone reads Ripped-off In Perpetuity.

David Welch

January 20, 2010 12:15 PM

David Welch with Bloomberg BusinessWeek here. IAH asks why I didn't offer specs for the Chrysler Lancia. Quite simply, Chrysler didn't have any to give. I could have added the specs for the current Lancia Delta, but any European product sold here by Fiat-Chrysler would be changed significantly for this market. So those specs wouldn't be worth publishing. This is especially true since Chrysler probably wouldn't sell the current Delta. It would more likely be a future-generation Delta that comes to the States.

Damir Petrovic

January 22, 2010 3:43 PM

David, you could just put European model specs: Most interesting for US market are small 1.4-liter turbo engine with 150 horse power which gets almost 34 mpg combined. From 0-60 about 8.5 sec.
1.8-liter turbo with 200 horse power, 0-60 in 7.3 sec, about 30 mpg.

Torque monsters in Europe are turbo diesels, and Lancia has 1.9-liter twin turbo with 190 horsepower, 34/55 mpg. It saves fuel, and eats gasoline sport cars for breakfast.

AP

February 12, 2010 8:37 PM

Chrysler will now be badge engineered Fix It Again Tony. Fiat is barely holding up in European market outside of Italy. May be the rebadged Chryslers may be better accepted even in Europe than Fiats and its other brands.

AP

February 12, 2010 8:37 PM

Chrysler will now be badge-engineered Fix It Again Tony. Fiat is barely holding up in European market outside of Italy. May be the rebadged Chryslers may be better accepted even in Europe than Fiats and its other brands.

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Want the straight scoop on the auto industry? Our man in Detroit David Welch, brings keen observations and provocative perspective on the auto business.

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