Last week rumors that Chrysler might split the Dodge brand into separate car and truck divisions emerged, but today the company has confirmed: the Dodge Ram Brand will sell pickups and the Dodge Car Brand will sell passenger cars.
The decision is part of Chrysler's ongoing restructuring and repositioning under the leadership of new CEO Sergio Marchionne, who also heads up Fiat. By splitting the Dodge Ram Brand off, it allows that division to focus solely on what Dodge already does best: pickups.
It also gives the Dodge Car Brand the room it needs to start building the new, sportier brand identity that Marchionne wants to see for Dodge-brand cars.
And by letting Dodge cars and trucks move into their own niches, it further expands the gaps between them and the Chrysler and Jeep brand vehicles, allowing Chrysler to continue positioning itself further up-market and letting Jeep alone to maximize its Jeep-ness by staying essentially unchanged.
Those with a peculiar eye for the industry might see a sort of coming full circle with the split of the Dodge Ram Brand from the Car Brand. Back in 1979, the then American Motors Corporation-owned Eagle and Jeep brands came together during a time of economic and energy crisis to build a more fuel-efficient off road-capable vehicle called the Eagle--what some might call the first crossover.
It was based on a Jeep-style permanent all-wheel-drive powertrain thanks to Jeep engineer Roy Lunn's work on the project. It wasn't a smashing success, but it helped AMC continue on for nearly another 8 years until Chrysler took over. Now, 20 years after the Eagle's inception, Dodge is symbolically splitting cars and pickups back into their separate roles--though crossovers are sure to stay.
Along with the model announcement comes a number of personnel changes to make new heads for the bifurcated brands: Fred Diaz Jr. is now appointed president and lead sales executive of the new Dodge Ram Brand. His counterpart at the Dodge Car Brand is Ralph Gilles, who will also continue to lead the Chrysler Group's product design organization.
Olivier Francois is the new Chrysler Brand President and CEO, crossing over from the head of Fiat's Lancia brand, a position he will continue to hold. The previous head of the Chrysler brand, Peter Fong, has resigned for "personal reasons" according to Chrysler, while Mike Accavitti, former head of the Dodge Brand, has resigned to "pursue other interests."
So what sort of impact will this model split have on you, the car shopper? Probably not much at the outset--dealerships will likely remain the same and products won't diverge too sharply in the short term. Over time, it's possible that truck-only or car-only Dodge dealerships will emerge in certain markets, and that the "look" of the two types of vehicles will diverge until they share only a vague familial resemblance, rather than the strong characteristics they share today.