Fiat Chrysler to focus on Jeep, bench other brands

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Fiat Chrysler to focus on Jeep, bench other brands

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Pablo Rosso, head of FCA Korea, gives a presentation next to the company’s updated Jeep Cherokee model at its launch event in western Seoul on Tuesday. [FCA KOREA]

Fiat and Chrysler cars might not be sold in Korea for much longer.

The Italian-American carmaker Fiat Chrysler Automobiles said it will devote itself “100 percent” to its Jeep brand here, moving away from sedans and small cars in line with the company’s SUV-first global strategy.

“All strategy from FCA Korea will be focused on the Jeep brand for the coming years,” said Pablo Rosso, head of FCA Korea, at the launch of its facelifted Cherokee midsize SUV in western Seoul on Tuesday.

“We are going to focus on SUVs and we are going to do so through the Jeep brand. The SUV market is growing at a rapid rate,” he added.

Jeep has been growing quickly in Korea, selling 7,012 vehicles last year, up 38 percent from 2016.

FCA Korea had the highest growth rate among the top five SUV importers to the country, according to the company. Jeep sold 1,817 Cherokee SUVS here last year, 136.9 percent more than 2016.

FCA Korea will make 90 percent of its 19 showrooms Jeep-only by the end of the year, as part of its plan to boost the Jeep marque. By 2019, 100 percent of the dealerships will be dedicated to Jeeps.

The fate of Fiat Chrysler’s other brands in Korea looks grim, as the company already announced in 2016 its plans to discontinue sedans like the Chrysler 200 and Dodge Dart in the U.S. to focus more on Jeep. The lower demand for sedans has been a growing issue in the Korean auto industry. GM Korea, which has a sedan-heavy lineup, is stuck in a liquidity crisis.

“In regards to Fiat and Chrysler’s sedan lineup, we are still studying with the headquarters and no decision has been made yet,” Rosso said Tuesday. “The corporation name will remain as FCA Korea though.”

Chrysler sales were miniscule in Korea last year. After suspending sales of the midsize 200 sedan, it sold just 272 units, down 70 percent from 2016. It currently offers a single model: the aging full-size 300 sedan.

Fiat sells the 500, a small city car, in a number of variants in Korea. It sold 980 cars last year, up 48.9 percent from 2016.

“Fiat and Chrysler cars will be sold in Korea as well as maintain A/S service until the headquarters finishes its market study,” an official from FCA Korea said. “We may bring in other brands from FCA headquarters.”

The Cherokee, which launched in Korea on Tuesday, is an update to the fifth generation of the model first released in 2014. It has a nine-speed automatic transmission and four-wheel drive. Its engine puts out 177 horsepower and 23.4 kilogram-meters of torque. The Cherokee’s price starts at 44.9 million won ($42,050).

“Jeep is the creator of the SUV category. The Jeep SUVs will highlight the legendary off-road skill and all-wheel drive technology,” Rosso said.

The new Cherokee will compete with the Lexus NX, Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4 and Volkswagen Tiguan in Korea, according to Rosso.


BY JIN EUN-SOO [jin.eunsoo@joongang.co.kr]

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