Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep/ ... Saturn?
With everything happening in the automotive world, it looks like there may be an interesting ‘fostering’ of the Saturn division. Keep in mind this is all speculation, but based on actual processes currently in play.
1. GM is terminating the Saturn division, which has recently become something of a misnomer for “Opel” here in the U.S., following a long pattern of GM importing Opels and selling them as other brands, such as Isuzus or even Buicks; much of the current Saturn line is, in fact, based on Opel products.
2. Fiat’s alliance with Chrysler looks like it’s nearly a done deal.
3. Fiat is looking hard at GM Europe, especially Opel/Vauxhall, and possibly even Saab.
While Chrysler provides a dealership network that would be a great boon to Fiat re-entering the U.S. market, as a corporation, it is woefully undersupplied with small, fuel-efficient import fighters. The Caliber hardly qualifies for this, and certainly not the Jeep Compass and Patriot, built off the same platform. Other than these, and the soon-to-die PT Cruiser, Chrysler has no small cars, period, and the Sebring/Avenger are poor entries into the mid-size market, especially compared to the Saturn Aura.
Looking at the puzzle pieces, it would be easy to see where Fiat, in acquiring GM’s Europe assets, could possibly even inherit at least the car lines of Saturn, along with its dealer network, and insert them as a new ‘Plymouth,’ an entry-level brand for the Chrysler group. Keep Dodge as the performance and truck division, dropping the Caliber and Avenger in favor of the Saturn Astra and Aura, as well as dropping the Compass and keeping only the Patriot from that platform. Then they could begin building up Fiat as a premium mini car brand, like Mini, bringing over the 500 and Punto, and probably also (hopefully) using Fiat technology to finally bring in the Dodge Hornet, a great concept that lacked any feasible platform (thankfully, Chrysler bailed on their prospect of having China’s Chery Auto build this, permanently ruining any reputation Chrysler might have). The Fiat Bravo, with minimal restyling, would make a good small Chrysler model, as well. And don’t forget Alfa Romeo, with some of the world’s most beautiful current mass-production cars – Fiat have already been working on plans to bring those in, and with Chrysler, Alfa would be the equivalent of Lexus and Acura, a market that Chrysler doesn’t currently address at all (the Chrysler brand is more like Buick, but with a lower age of buyers)
The days of auto corporations that duplicate every market in each of their lines, from subcompacts to full-size luxury cars, are gone – it’s unsustainable. Their best bet is to compartmentalize their markets within brands that can reasonably service them, and return to the idea that buyers will start with an entry-level brand and, over the years, maintain their loyalties as they move upward through the company’s offerings. GM won’t have badge-engineered models after Pontiac is gone – Chevy, Buick and Cadillac share no models at this point, and without Saturn, even the Aura and Malibu cousins will be split, and their styling is different enough that it’s entirely possible that most buyers wouldn’t know they are related under the skin, even if they come from competing car companies (after all, GM and Toyota have manufactured and sold competing cars for decades, since the Geo Prism and Toyota Corolla rolled off the same NUMMI assembly lines).
There are good potentials for synergy in Fiat’s plans. Here’s hoping there’s an actual market once more in which to implement them.