Ramciotti was lured out of retirement to head up the project, which aims for a common design language for the two brands. “We are trying to find an international language, which could have a place both here in Italy and in the U.S.,” said Ramaciotti in an interview with Bloomberg. “If you put all the models into the showroom, they must fit together. It’s a delicate problem.”
Sergio Machionne, Chief Executive Officer of Fiat and Chrysler, hopes sharing designs will boost both Chrysler and floundering Italian sister company Lancia, a weak link for Fiat. The carmaker loses an estimated $1.08 billion annually in Europe. If all goes as planned, the new Chrysler-Lancia line will boost group sales 64 percent by 2014.
Sharing vehicles between manufacturers is a quick way to cut costs, but it can have a high price.
“It’s extremely difficult to succeed in a strategy of globalizing design,” said Roberto Verganti, a management professor at Milan Polytechnic. “The risk is making international cars with no personality. When you buy a Lancia, you are looking for a piece of Italy, and when you choose a Chrysler, you are getting a slice of America.”
Despite the plan to marry models between Chrysler and Lancia, Fiat doesn’t plan to do the same for other brands including Dodge, Jeep, Maserati and Alfa Romeo, all of which will retain their respective identities.
Currently, Chrysler provides re-badged Grand Voyagers and 300s to Lancia, with Lancia calling them the Voyager and Thema respectively. For now, the cars are attracting attention in showrooms, but they haven’t been hot sellers in the depressed Italian economy. “Reactions are good. The Thema is pretty, design is attractive for Italians, too, but no one is buying these kinds of cars now,” said Roberto Ferrari, who owns a Lancia dealer outside Milan.
Overall, Chrysler only sold 37,000 cars in Europe last year, including Jeep and Dodge. That number is down by almost 38 percent since 2007 when they peaked at 120,000 units.
The news isn’t all bad for Fiat’s rebranded American cars though. Since June, the company enjoyed 18,000 orders for their rebranded version of the Dodge Journey minivan, more than double their total sales for 2009.