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by Tim Beissmann

The head of Dodge Australia says he expects the brand to continue operating throughout 2012, but admits its future beyond that is less clear.

Chrysler Group Australia (CGA) managing director Clyde Campbell says the company is not currently considering dropping the Dodge brand from its local line-up despite the fact the seven-seat Journey will be the flying the flag on its own for much of the year. The compact Nitro SUV and the Caliber hatchback have both been discontinued.

“We’re pretty confident that Dodge is here for all of this year,” Campbell says, although he admits it could be a different story in 12 months’ time. “We’re in a dynamic game, who knows what we’ll be saying this time next year.”

Campbell says he is confident Dodge will sell more than 2000 units of the recently updated Journey in Australia this year – a result he says would make “financial sense” for the company. Dodge sold just over half that number (1016) of Journeys in 2011.

“Dodge works for us as a brand. There’s a lot of brands in this marketplace that would love to have a brand that sold 2000 units a year.

“So, [we’re] not looking to drop that (Dodge) unless we can find something that was going to give us a lot bigger return for our money. Dodge is a pretty important thing for us going forward.”

Fiat-Chrysler global boss Sergio Marchionne and Jeep CEO Mike Manly told reporters at last week’s Detroit motor show that a restructuring of his group’s brands in Australia would take place within the next three months. The restructuring could see the distribution responsibilities of some or all of the Fiat-Chrysler brands currently distributed by Ateco Automotive (Abarth, Alfa Romeo and Fiat) and European Automotive Imports (Ferrari and Maserati) shift to CGA.

CGA has brand responsibility for all eight brands, as well as Lancia (not sold in Australia), despite currently being operationally responsible for just three of them. Campbell says over the past year he has been in regular discussion with Ateco Automotive owner Neville Crichton and managing director Ric Hull about ways to further the performance of the brands under their control.

“There have been discussions about whether it would be better under us, but at this stage there is no agreement to do anything concretely.”

Campbell said the multiple distributor set-up was typical of a number of Fiat-Chrysler markets around the world.

“Ateco are pretty good at what they do. They’ve demonstrated that for a number of years with a number of different brands.”

Regardless, Campbell says he believes CGA has the capacity to manage the distribution of all eight brands if that is the desire of Marchionne and the overseas parent company.

“We think we do,” Campbell says. “We currently manage three brands. We didn’t have any Chrysler availability last year, but with the two brands where we did have available product we think we did a reasonable job. We started moving in the right direction … we think there’s a lot of upside coming our way.

“If the powers that be want us to look in a different direction then we’ll follow that and see where it goes.”

Campbell said CGA had not done enough analysis to know what structure was in the company’s best interests yet, and insisted a changeover of distribution rights would only take place if it was mutually agreeable.

“You wouldn’t do it just for the sake of doing it, you’d have to do it because you saw benefits to both brands. If there’s not clearly benefits both ways then you don’t do it. You don’t take it to build power and end up averaging down two brands. You do it if it’s going to build both brands.

“At this stage I’m trying to keep our team focused on the job that’s definitely in front of us, and that job really is about Jeep and Chrysler and Dodge this year. We wouldn’t want to take too much of a bite if we were going to do anything more.”