Fiat Chrysler, citing rental car woes, says sales dropped for 4th quarter, full year 2020

The 2021 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid Pinnacle. (FCA US LLC/TNS)
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Eric D. Lawrence Detroit Free Press (TNS)

In what is expected to be its last year as a standalone company, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles saw its sales drop in 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic continued to hit the auto industry in a variety of ways.

The company’s fourth-quarter numbers also fell, although FCA reported some bright spots, including a 1% rise in retail sales in the quarter compared with the same period a year ago.

Citing a sharp decline in fleet orders related to rental car business woes because of COVID-19, FCA said its full year U.S. sales dropped 17% and its fourth-quarter sales were down 8%. The company sold 1.8 million vehicles in the United States in 2020 compared with 2.2 million the previous year.

The company emphasized its dealers’ efforts to deal with the fallout from the pandemic and its new vehicle offerings for the year ahead.

“The work undertaken by our dealers was nothing less than heroic given the challenges they faced this year,” U.S. Head of Sales Jeff Kommor said in a news release. “The fourth quarter provided a strong springboard heading into 2021. Looking ahead, we anticipate an exciting year that will include a variety of new vehicles. Just in the first quarter alone, we will be offering the Ram 1500 TRX, Jeep Wrangler 4xe, Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392, the refreshed Dodge Durango and the refreshed Chrysler Pacifica.”

Interestingly, FCA saw gains in some unexpected places. The Chrysler brand, thanks to the Pacifica minivan, saw a 5% increase for the quarter even as the brand was down 13% for the year, and the small volume Alfa Romeo brand was up for both the quarter and year, 23% and 2%, respectively.

The company’s main profit drivers, the Jeep and Ram brands, were both down for the quarter and year. Jeep sales declined 4% for the quarter and 14% for the year. Ram was down 5% for the quarter and 11% for the year. The Jeep Gladiator saw increases, but every other Jeep model was down, and Ram pickup sales were also down, putting the Ram likely back in third place in the Truck Wars behind both the Ford F-Series and Chevrolet Silverado.

Dodge was also down 31% for the quarter and 37% for the year, and the Fiat brand had an abysmal showing, down 58% for the quarter and 53% for the year.

Michelle Krebs, executive analyst for Autotrader, noted that it appears FCA underperformed in the industry in volume but had solid sales for vehicles that generate profits, which should show in fourth-quarter earnings. She also offered some other insights.

“Fiat sales are shrinking to nearly nothing. Sales of small, ‘cheap’ Jeeps are down because buyers of those vehicles likely are hurting financially. Those models attract younger, less credit-worthy buyers who likely were more hurt by the pandemic recession than, for example, buyers of the Grand Cherokee or Gladiator. The Dodge brand, obviously, is undergoing a transformation, winding down a couple of once high-volume vehicles. Chrysler is the amazing brand — sales up in the quarter on basically only two models,” Krebs said.

FCA typically releases its sales figures in the morning, but the release was delayed by several hours on Tuesday.

General Motors released its sales numbers earlier in the day, reporting its best fourth quarter for retail sales since 2007 even as the year overall saw a decline. GM’s sales for the quarter were up 4.8% compared with the same period in 2019 and down 11.8% for the full year, with sales of 2.5 million vehicles.

Ford is expected to release its sales numbers Wednesday.

The release of FCA’s sales numbers comes a day after Fiat Chrysler’s shareholders approved the company’s planned merger with France’s PSA Group to form Stellantis. That merger is now on track to be completed this month.

Stellantis would be the world’s fourth-largest automaker, combining FCA’s stable of brands with PSA’s Peugeot, Citroen, Opel, Vauxhall and DS Automobiles. Together FCA and PSA sold more than 8 million vehicles in 2019.

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(Jamie L. LaReau contributed to this report.)
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