Marchionne Weighs The Future Of Chrysler, Lancia, Alfa Romeo

December 3, 2009

One month ago, a popular rumor suggested that Jeep would soon be the only Chrysler brand sold overseas. Now, a contradictory bit of gossip says that Chrysler/Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne may ditch the Lancia nameplate and sell those vehicles in Europe as Chryslers. There's also talk of potential integration between Chrysler and the underperforming Alfa Romeo brand -- or possibly letting Alfa go to seed.

On the Lancia front, Marchionne's plans clearly center on his goal of increasing Chrysler's international prominence. During a recent interview, he said, "There is no doubt that, outside a limited number of markets in Europe, Chrysler is going to be the global brand [of Chrysler/Fiat]". He went on to say that "We need to be very careful that we don't destroy Lancia's roots, to find a way to preserve the identity of Lancia through an agreement that commonizes as much of the portfolio as possible [with Chrysler]".

It's doubtful that Marchionne would do away with the Lancia nameplate altogether. The marque has strong recognition in certain European markets, especially in its home country of Italy. That means some kind of delicate compromise must be  reached.

The simplest option would be to keep the Lancia badge alive in those countries where it sells well -- Belgium, France, and Italy being the brand's largest markets. Chrysler models like the upscale Chrysler 300C sedan could be sold alongside them. Another option would be to make Lancia an upmarket sub-brand of Chrysler, or possibly a select range, much as Abarth is to Fiat.

Whatever route Marchionne & Co. take, they aren't likely to make any firm decisions until they see how new Chrysler versions of the 300C, the Sebring, and the Voyager fare in Europe. A final decision on the future of 103-year-old Lancia is expected by the end of 2010.

On the Alfa Romeo front, Marchionne has ordered a complete evaluation of the high-end brand, which has seen sales tumble nearly 50% since last year. Depending on the results of the assessment, Alfa could (a) continue as-is, (b) integrate more closely with Chrysler technology, or (c) be forced to support itself.

Between Marchionne's aggressive tactics, Ford's forward-thinking, and GM's (possibly) new swagger, the American auto industry may be in for a very interesting ride.

[AutoNews, sub req'd; Autoblog]

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