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How Much Longer Can Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Feast on Pickups, Jeeps, and Muscle Cars?

By John Rosevear - Oct 3, 2019 at 11:18AM

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FCA's icons are still doing well, but its bread-and-butter lineup is sagging.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles said that its U.S. sales rose 0.1% in the third quarter, as good results for its Ram pickups and Dodge muscle cars were largely offset by weakness elsewhere in its portfolio.

Still, FCA sold 565,034 vehicles in the U.S. in the third quarter, well ahead of Edmunds' forecast of 558,302. FCA's slight year-over-year sales gain was roughly in line with the overall U.S. market's, and ahead of gains from key rivals including Ford Motor Company and Toyota. 

Here's a look at how FCA's third-quarter U.S. sales results stack up against those from its five largest-selling rivals.

Automaker Q3 2019 U.S. Sales Change vs. Q3 2019
General Motors (GM -0.20%) 738,638 6.3%
Toyota Motor (TM -0.53%) 627,194 (9.9%)
Ford Motor (F 0.86%) 580,251 (4.9%)
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCAU) 565,034 0.1%
Honda Motor 429,214 2.4%
Nissan Motor 327,354 (4.8%)

Data sources: The automakers.

High and low points of FCA's third-quarter sales report

The high points:

  • Sales of Ram pickups rose 14% to 161,635. FCA launched an all-new version of its Ram 1500 early in 2018, and sales of the new truck have been consistently strong. That strength continued in the third quarter despite strong demand for General Motors' brand-new Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra trucks, thanks to aggressive pricing and a surprising dip in sales for the segment-leading Ford F-Series line.
  • The brawny Dodge Charger sedan and its coupe sibling, the Challenger, are pricey gas guzzlers built on an architecture that dates all the way back to 2004 -- and yet sales were up 46% and 21%, respectively, in the third quarter, outstanding results in a market that has been terrible for most other sedans and coupes. The Charger and Challenger are brash, comfortable, fun products that appeal to a wide range of customers. They're far from new designs, but FCA has kept them fresh (or at least fresh enough) with a steady stream of updates and special editions. The two have bucked market trends for years: In a statement, FCA noted that combined sales of the Charger and Challenger have increased more than 60% over the last decade.
  • Sales of the iconic Jeep Wrangler rose 3% in the third quarter to 59,035, and FCA sold an additional 16,132 examples of the closely related Gladiator pickup. 
  • Sales of the big Jeep Grand Cherokee jumped 8% to 61,768, making it the brand's best seller in the quarter.
A red 2020 Jeep Gladiator, an off-road pickup truck with distinctive Jeep styling.

The Wrangler-based Jeep Gladiator pickup isn't cheap, but it has sold well since its introduction earlier this year. Image source: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

The low points:

  • Despite the success of the Wrangler, Gladiator, and Grand Cherokee, overall Jeep sales -- a key driver of FCA's profits -- dipped 2%, as sales of the compact Compass and midsize Cherokee SUVs fell 22% and 21%, respectively. 
  • Chrysler-brand sales decreased 23% to just 29,544 units, as sales of the brand's volume leader, the upscale Pacifica minivan, dropped 24%. And while the big Chrysler 300 sedan is closely related to the Dodge Charger and Challenger, it hasn't shared in its siblings' success: Sales fell 20% to 7,836.
  • Despite the muscle cars' success, overall Dodge sales were down 4% on big declines for the elderly midsize Journey crossover and Caravan minivan. Sales of the Durango SUV, a close relative of the Jeep Grand Cherokee, tumbled 7% to 15,631.
  • Alfa Romeo sales fell 27% to just 4,310. The Giulia sedan and Stelvio crossover SUV dropped 21% and 31%, respectively. 
A blue 2020 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Widebody, a big high-performance sedan with aggressive styling.

The Dodge Charger dates all the way back to 2006, but smart updates have kept sales strong. Image source: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

What it means for investors

For auto investors, FCA's third-quarter results add to the evidence that the U.S. new-vehicle market is losing traction. Note that aside from strong pickup sales, FCA's biggest successes in the quarter were with products that have devoted followings: the Wrangler, Gladiator, and Dodge muscle cars.

FCA is arguably the best in the business when it comes to giving its most ardent fans reasons to come back to its showrooms, and that success has been an important part of its rising-margins story. But investors should take note of the fact that, aside from the pickups, most of its bread-and-butter products struggled in the third quarter. 

Long story short: FCA may have pulled out another solidly profitable quarter, but its continued success is hanging on just a few products right now. We'll know more when FCA reports its third-quarter earnings on Oct. 31.

John Rosevear owns shares of Ford and General Motors. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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