MUMBAI: Sergio Marchionne, CEO of Fiat Chrysler Group, said that his group will bet on the iconic Jeep brand to find its way back into the Indian car market.
The Fiat brand cannot expect to ‘relive’ its history in India, and would instead have to ride on the Jeep brand to make its presence felt in the country, said Marchionne, who was talking at the sidelines of the Geneva International Motor Show.
“We were very strong and successful for a long time (with Fiat), but we now need to focus on our strength and it will be with the Jeep. The Fiat brand can’t relive its history again,” Marchionne told ET. FiatChrysler, the merged entity owns the eponymous Jeep brand, after Chrysler merged with Fiat to form a single entity.
Fiat, even eight years ago, was seen as a challenger to Maruti Suzuki and Hyundai, especially in the premium segments of the market, but today it sells much less than even what luxury car makers such as Mercedes Benz, Audi and BMW do.
During the period between April and February of FY17, the Fiat brand had a market share of a mere 0.19% in India with sales of just 5,312 units, registering a decline of 30% in a market which grew 9% in the same period. An ageing portfolio and a poor network of dealers took a toll on the brand.
Marchionne insisted that Fiat will now use the Ranjangaon plant near Pune — originally built for rolling out Fiat and Tata cars — to make the rugged Jeep SUVs in India.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) India is preparing to start production of the Jeep Compass SUV, which will be exported to all right hand drive markets of FiatChrysler.
In the coming years, Chrysler plans to introduce two more compact SUVs in India and will be challenging popular carmakers such as Maruti, Hyundai and Mahindra.
Fiat, which has a strong association with India dating back over seven decades, thanks to its partnership with Premier Automobiles, had offered a rich motoring experience to the wealthy Indians during the pre-liberalisation era.
With changing times, Fiat too tweaked its strategy in India.
Its experiment with the Fiat Uno, post opening up of the economy, got a reasonable response but nothing spectacular.
Then it tried to make a comeback with the Palio, when international brands such as Honda, Toyota, GM and Ford were making inroads into India in the late 90s, and early 2000. But the Palio failed to create much of an excitement.
In its third attempt post liberalisation, Fiat decided to make a comeback with Tata Motors through a joint venture to make and sell cars in 2007.
With a new and modern portfolio of Linea and Punto and the distribution muscle of Tata Motors, Fiat thought it had finally hit the right recipe here.
After the initial buzz, these brands too started losing steam in the market, with some blaming the Tata-Fiat dealers for pushing the homegrown brands over the Fiat cars, which had the same engine and were produced in the same factory.
A solo ride again, post its break-up with Tata Motors in 2012, proved costly as there were not enough volumes. So after years of bumpy rides, it appears that Fiat will now have to make way for Chrysler’s Jeep for the next four years.