Candid as always, Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne let off some steam during a first-quarter earnings call this week. The chief executive, due to retire early next year, revealed the launch of the next-generation 2019 Ram 1500 was not the smoothest process in the world, with the company taking on additional costs to get the pickup out the door.
Despite these troubles, the Ram 1500’s launch is nothing compared to the debut of the Maserati Levante SUV in 2017, which hit the market with a whimper. That launch straight up “sucked,” Marchionne said.
The content of the earnings call, reported by Motor Trend, is classic Marchionne, who channelled his inner Roger Murtaugh when discussing the goings-on at the retooled Sterling Heights plant. The higher-capacity plant, repurposed for 2019 Ram production, required an extra $300 million to get the truck ready on time. Still, not every configuration was available come the on-sale date.
Marchionne said the plant is “running at 60 percent of cycle today which is not where we need to be. We allowed enough time in 2017 to get that installation up, but itâ€™s proven to be challenging.”
Anyone entertaining ideas of Marchionne showing up with a sleeping bag to oversee operations on the plant floor had best think again. “I’m too old for that crap,” he said, referring to Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s practice of camping out in times of production crisis.
While FCA works to get the Sterling Heights plant up to speed, the Warren plant continues to churn out the previous-gen model, and will so for at least the next year. Tooling and development costs have long since been paid off, making the old-style 1500 a comforting profit generator. It also satisfies buyers looking for a lower-cost full-sizer.
As for the Levante, a vehicle not exactly at the forefront of any car enthusiasts’ mind, Marchionne likes itm, but detests the manner in which it entered the market. FCA dropped the ball on that one, he admits.
“Very poor execution,” he said. “I think we sucked at the launch of the Levante.â€�
Since its debut, Tim Kuniskis took over as head of Maserati and Alfa Romeo, leaving a formerly overburdened Reid Bigland to focus on North American sales. FCA’s head honcho feels it’s a good fit. As former head of the Dodge brand, Kuniskis oversaw the buildup to the launch of the Challenger SRT Demon, and Marchionne thinks much of that same enthusiasm can be mustered for the 590 horsepower Levante Trofeo unveiled at this year’s New York auto show. That variant goes on sale this fall.
After first appearing on U.S. sales charts in August of 2016, the Levante’s monthly volume quickly flatlined. Its best sales month in the United States was December 2016.
[Image: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles]