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Fiat Chrysler is Living on Jeep and Ram Sales Right Now

By John Rosevear - Mar 1, 2016 at 1:05PM

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It's a mixed bag: FCA's sedan sales are cratering fast -- but it's struggling to make enough Jeeps to meet demand. Here's how things shook out in February.

The compact Jeep Compass posted a big sales gain in February. Image source: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCAU) said on Tuesday that its U.S. sales rose 12%, powered by strong gains by its Jeep and Ram brands.

Shocked, shocked, to discover strong Jeep sales in this establishment
It's a story we've been hearing for quite a while now. While some parts of FCA's global business are struggling, the Jeep and Ram brands have been doing just fine -- better than fine, in fact.

U.S. sales of Jeep SUVs rose 23% last month versus results in the year-ago month. That jump was powered by a big (54%) gain for the compact Compass and the addition of the subcompact Renegade, which wasn't yet available at this time last year.

Sales of the big Grand Cherokee were up 12% year-over-year, but other Jeeps posted just modest year-over-year increases. No matter: FCA said that the Cherokee (up 7%), Wrangler (up 3%), Patriot (up 3%), and Compass all posted their best February results ever. 

It's an impressive result especially in light of FCA's manufacturing situation. The Toledo factory that makes the Wrangler and Cherokee is running at full speed and has been for a while; until that changes, year-over-year sales gains are likely to be modest simply because supplies are limited.

Ram trucks also had a good month
The Ram brand also had a great February, with sales up 27% year-over-year. While FCA didn't quite come out and say it, the big story here is probably a jump in the company's sales to commercial fleet buyers.

Last year, FCA CFO Richard Palmer said that the company would look to gain ground in sales of trucks and vans to commercial fleets in the United States. That market has long been dominated by Chrysler's old Detroit rivals, Ford and General Motors -- and unlike rental-car fleet sales, sales of work trucks to commercial fleets are good, profitable business.

The Ram ProMaster City, a small commercial van, is off to a good start. Image source: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles

Those profits were probably strong in February. Ram pickup sales rose 23%, accounting for much of the brand's volume -- but its Fiat-derived ProMaster and smaller ProMaster City commercial vans are also doing well. ProMaster van sales were up 83% year-over-year, while the ProMaster City (which was new this time last year) added another 1,763 units to the brand's total.

FCA's car models continue to struggle
On the car front, here's the good news: Sales of the Dodge Challenger coupe rose 6%, and the big Chrysler 300 sedan was up 10%.

The bad news is that those two are niche products, and the volume models are hurting. The bread-and-butter compact Dodge Dart (down 9%) and midsize Chrysler 200 (down a disturbing 58%) both continue to slide into oblivion. The two were supposed to be FCA's mass-market volume car models, but neither has managed to get much momentum in the market.

Buyers are ignoring FCA's mainstream sedans, but the big Dodge Challenger muscle car is selling quite well. Image source: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles

Sales of the 300's sibling, the Dodge Charger, dropped 15% year over year. On the bright side for the Dodge brand, sales of the Durango SUV (a sibling of the Jeep Grand Cherokee) rose 22%, and the Caravan minivan, which is set to be discontinued, posted a 95% year-over-year gain as dealers began selling off inventories.

The upshot: FCA's sales roll continues
In what was likely a good month for U.S. sales overall, FCA's results show its ongoing strengths: The powerhouse Jeep brand, its well-regarded Ram pickup line, and its appealing niche cars. This was the company's 71st consecutive month of year-over-year sales gains in the United States.

Compared to its rivals, FCA still lacks a credible luxury offering, and at this point it's almost a non-player in the mass-market sedan segments. Both are likely to hurt the company in coming years. But the things FCA does best are still working for it in a still-strong U.S. new-car market. 

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