Commentary: Promises, Decisions, Strategies at Stellantis

As we enter another month of the Stellantis merger, the news continues to scratch heads, question motives, and recalibrate our tinfoil hats towards wondering how this merger will work in the North American market. 

The truth is that the merger’s main focus is on its European operations and how each branch of this wide-ranging company will be able to keep its promises, meet new challenges, and create new opportunities within the company. 

With that said, let’s set aside the news that Stellantis will not bring Peugeot over to North America for a moment…

What has already transpired came from a part of the “French side of the house” that everyone worried would be gutted and thrown out the window. I’m talking about the former General Motors assets of Opel and Vauxhall. 

They were given new life through a sharpening of their brand identity. Along with the new identity is the all-new Mokka, the small SUV that used to be shared with the Chevrolet Trax and Buick Encore. This second-generation Mokka is now built on the platform shared with the Peugeot 2008 and features an electric drive system shared with the small French SUV. 

With two models underpinned by a Peugeot platform, the commitment to keep the Russelsheim, Germany plant running under Stellantis management is a good sign that we might be seeing more from its German and British brands in the near term. That is, even if some of these products are sharing production space with Peugeot and Citroen models. 

The Mokka may have nothing to do with Fiat, Jeep, or Chrysler. Perhaps, not yet. The talk of a mini-SUV for Jeep to be developed on a Peugeot platform could actually tie the Mokka to this newest Jeep. 

Speaking of Jeep, it would be safe to say that the brand saved Fiat in its own interesting way. When you watch recent videos of Italy and other parts of Europe, you are seeing more Renegades and Compasses on those roads than Pandas and 500s. It is a global brand that the Italians – namely the late Sergio Marchionne – elevated to a higher brand status than their own. It is important that the company’s management in Paris continue to cultivate, steward, and grow this iconic 80-year-old brand as one of their own. 

It already has. Jeep is a very precious commodity, and the 2022 Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer are proof of that. The French side of the merger may have nixed these large, luxurious SUVs, but they are now given the license to compete among the landed gentry and Wayzata Tractor set. 

For the sake of selling a lineup of highly capable SUVs, there had been a couple of key announcements that would have helped Stellantis’ cause on this continent…even worldwide. 

First off, Peugeot is not coming back to the USA and Canada. Nor will Ram receive a mid-sized pickup truck. These have been the latest dictums from Paris.

I understand the reasoning for both announcements. However, both of these dictums will be seen as complete missteps by Stellantis in the years to come. 

For one, a mid-sized pickup truck is not just for North American consumption. That class of vehicle has global implications, especially when Chinese competitors have entered several key markets where the established brands reside. Stellantis already has a global commercial vehicle in the Ram ProMaster, where it is sold under various brands within the company. A similar strategy could make the mid-sized pickup truck viable in markets where it can sell very well. 

As for Peugeot, I’m pretty concerned that the opportunities presented through this merger will keep the recently rejuvenated French brand from entering these key markets. Could they help save and augment the Chrysler brand in North America? If that is a possibility, the only question is “how?” This market is driven by the SUV. That brings us back to Jeep. Honestly, there is nothing in Peugeot’s portfolio – including Citroen, DS, and Opel/Vauxhall – that could help Chrysler and Peugeot in North America. Not even the Peugeot 5008. 

The upshot of keeping Peugeot back in Europe and other markets where the brand sells in will be Stellantis’ cultivation of the Alfa Romeo brand as the company’s leading global premium/luxury brand. 

This is a move that will provide a needed boost to this iconic Italian brand. The current portfolio is solid. However, it needs some further expansion. The Tonale concept should be one approach to bring a premium small SUV with Alfa Romeo’s DNA to the global stage. The other would be to introduce coupes, high performance models beyond the Quadrifoglio badge – the Giulia GTA, for example – and establish this brand as Stellantis’ go-to competitor against the Germans, Jaguar Land Rover, Volvo, Lexus, Cadillac, and Genesis. 

However, to do so, you must continue to preserve and advance the heritage and aura of Alfa Romeo. 

Think about this, Stellantis saw precious equity in Jeep and Alfa Romeo to enhance their global portfolio and keep the plants running worldwide. That is a good thing, right?

With the preservation of brands across its wide portfolio, Stellantis is far from out of the woods in terms of meeting their goals to become “great” in the eyes of CEO Carlos Tavares. To focus on a few towards growth is one thing. To prevent growth by keeping some brands away from certain markets in another. To not see the opportunities on a global scale utilizing your resources across all corners of the enterprise is something that needs to be revisited by Tavares and his executive team. 

After these first inklings of what will Stellantis become in the next few years is worth the popcorn next to your recliner chair. I just hope that the company continues to keep Tavares’ word on ensuring greatness without sacrificing jobs, brands, and missed opportunities. 

All photos by Randy Stern

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