Though the possibility of a GM-Chrysler Merger remains but a 50/50 chance, the non-denial denials have sent our heads spinning. Are conversations actually taking place? Of that we're certain. Will it actually happen? Hard to say. Will it magically save both companies? Even harder to say. What we do know is a combined company would have a lot of products to draw from across various segments, and their lineups are actually, with the right cuts and decisions, more complementary than you would think. We've taken a look at what choices a merged company should make to build their ultimate lineup should the two automakers industrially copulate, recognizing the production realities, brand equity, dealer concerns and other factors that would go into such a decision. You, dear readers, should take this as a starting point to draft and build your ultimate fantasy company in the comments below.
Were the companies to merge, there would be no argument over what would happen in the subcompact segment as Chrysler doesn't have one. Chevy continues to push the Aveo/Pontiac G3 as the only B-segment car sold stateside by a domestic automaker. Dodge does build the Chery-based Breeze for Latin American markets, but not for the US. There's also the Demon possibility, but that remains up in the air. Finally, the Chrysler-Nissan swap included a Nissan-built, possibly Micra-based, compact or subcompact for Chrysler — but that deal's not yet bearing any fruit.
This is another segment where Chrysler isn't competitive, at least depending on how you classify a car. If you classify the Caliber as a compact crossover, as we do, then Chrysler has nothing and, as far as we can see, nothing on the horizon. What GM does have is the outdated, but not outsold, Chevy Cobalt, Pontiac G5 and the unpopular Saturn Astra. GM's future lineup will also include the Chevy Cruze, the successor to the Astra/Cobalt/G5. This new vehicle should offer higher quality and mileage than current offerings. It will be a global car and, so far, production has already been mapped out for the new vehicle. The Cruze is a big part of the General's new strategy and a great opportunity for Chrysler to exit this category, stage left.
Chrysler offers two mid-size cars in the form of the Chrysler Sebring and Dodge Avenger, both based on the JS-platform, which was developed with Mitsubishi. Both vehicles are extremely unpopular with the press. Year-to-date Sebring and Avenger sales down 10% and 9%, respectively, seem to indicate the redesign's pretty unpopular with the public as well. GM has the truly global Epsilon platform to work with. Here in the United States the Chevy Malibu, Pontiac G6 and Saturn Aura are all plopped on top of it. Sales for all of those models are up year-over-year reflecting the popularity of these newer designs. The next-generation mid-size platform, the Epsilon II, will provide the basis for the 2009 Open Insignia, 2010 Buick LaCrosse, the next-generation Chevy Malibu and like every other model under the sun. And from what we've seen, it certainly appears to be designed competitively. Clearly, this is another segment where GM has a distinct advantage.
Chrysler has had a lot of a success with their full-size Charger/300C platform, a rare hit for the automaker. That platform is also the basis for the 2009 Dodge Challenger, a car Chrysler is pinning a hundred thousand car sales or so on. However, the platform's old and a full refresh has been needed for at least a year. That's catching up with the vehicle and sales are reflecting the lack of a re-design. There have been reports that the 300C/Charger will get an upgrade in 2011, but we've also heard about tremendous cuts in the engineering teams, so we're not entirely sure if that's a realistic time frame. GM, on the other hand, is in the middle of phasing out the W-body barely-fullsize platform underpinning the current LaCrosse and Impala and phasing in the Zeta-based architecture of the Pontiac G8 and Chevy Camaro into possibly the 2011 Buick Lucerne. Chrysler has built a lot of brand equity with the 300C and Charger and proved Americans would embrace a RWD platform, at least in the days of cheap gas. However, the LX platform is ol' and busted and as we've seen firsthand, Zeta is the new hotness in RWD. GM wins this segment as well. If the Chrysler 300 or Dodge Charger continues to exist, it'll exist on Zeta.
Chrysler created a buzz with the PT Cruiser, a backward-looking retro hatchback for the new millennium. It was an instant hit and, in true Chrysler fashion, they never seriously upgraded it and have now planned for its demise after the 2009 model year. Bob Lutz, who oversaw the PT Cruiser project for Chrysler, moved to GM and, lo-and-behold, they debuted the Chevy HHR — another four-door retro econobox hatchback. Based on the Delta platform, the future of the HHR isn't entirely certain, though there haven't been talks of discontinuing the vehicle and the Delta platform will continue to be used for the near future. This is a trend we'd like to see die and we can't see the General maintaing two retro models which means the already dying PT Cruiser would be put out to pasture.
Both automakers have embraced the compact crossover concept with GM offering the Saturn Vue, Chevrolet Equinox and Pontiac Torrent, with the later two offered on the longer wheelbase version of the Theta platform and the Vue on the shorter wheelbase Theta. Chrysler offers the Dodge Caliber, Jeep Patriot and Jeep Compass on a Mitsubishi co-developed platform. The Theta platform is planned for models into the near future, including a premium version for Saab and Cadillac. There's been little reported discussion of a new platform for the Chrysler models and the dissolution of a longstanding production deal with Mitsubishi means that Chrysler is in a position where it has to develop its own platform or, more likely, partner with someone else. This is yet another area where GM is better positioned.
The midsize and fullsize crossover market has been an area of increasing focus by automakers given a perceived consumer preference away from truck-based SUVs towards car-based vehicles with better road manners and fuel economy. Chrysler offers the 2009 Dodge Journey, which falls in the midsize category and is based on the Avenger/Sebring platform. GM offers four Lamda-based crossovers that are better classified as fullsize crossovers. Though the Journey could continue selling as a smaller vehicle while the GMC Acadia/Chevy Traverse/Buick Enclave/Saturn Outlook for those looking for an alternative to a larger SUV or Minivan, the fact that the Journey relies on the sure-to-be discontinued Sebring/Avenger platform is a hindrance to its survival. Advantage: GM.
The minivan is one of the few areas where Chrysler has a clear advantage over GM. Having discontinued the Chevy Uplander, GM has no minivan platform and is instead selling the Lambda-based crossovers in its place. Chrysler's Dodge Caravan/Chrysler Town & Country are popular minivans that have been praised by the press. The van also provides the basis for the Volkswagen Routan. GM could use Chrysler's experience and minivan design technology and, certainly, Chrysler has proven it is willing to share the platform with automakers. And oh yes, since GM would own them, that shouldn't be a problem.
Chevy only offers one true compact SUV in the form of the Hummer H3, which shares a platform with the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon midsize truck platform. Though it shares the appearance of the much larger Hummer models while offering less in the way of fuel consumption, the H3 has been a victim of image and high gas prices. Similarly, neither the Dodge Nitro or Jeep Liberty from Chrysler have been able to avoid the fate other SUVs and Chrysler has already committed to cutting one of two in the near future. This is a market best left to crossover vehicles, even if gas prices continue to decrease. Neither platform appears to have much a future.
Chrysler has long served the midsize SUV market with the Jeep Grand Cherokee and, more recently, with the slightly larger Jeep Commander. We've already reported that the Commander will die quietly before the end of its first product cycle, unable to find an audience in a stunning act of poor timing. Chevy continues to sell its GMT300-based Chevy TrailBlazer, but that vehicle is more of a stop-gap between the Blazer and new crossovers. Chrysler has already hinted that the next generation Grand Cherokee will be built at the Jefferson North Assembly plant in Detroit and may be more of a crossover. The Grand Cherokee is a grand name in the SUV market and it is unlikely that a Jeep brand owned by anyone would let it pass into non-being, whatever form it may take.
The General is a leader in producing full-size SUVs, even if it isn't exactly the most popular market anymore. The GMT900-based Chevy Tahoeand GMC Sierra, plus the extended-length Chevy Suburban and GMC Yukon XL have historically been among the best offerings in this small market. This is a good thing for GM as it will not be upgrading the platform as soon as they'd originally planned, meaning these vehicles will be around for a while. Chrysler reentered the market much later than GM with the Dodge Durango and the Chrysler Aspen. The future of the platform isn't entirely clear given the introduction of a new truck platform for the Dodge Ram. In a bad economy with high gas prices it doesn't seem like quickly developing a new platform for a fullsize SUV is that smart of a bet. Luckily, both automakers have had discussions in the past about combining both companies large SUV lineups on the GMT-900 platform. Also, given the hybrid system the two companies co-developed can fit in both. It's reasonable to believe all the cars could be built on that platform. Or they could just kill the Dodge/Chrysler SUVs and call it a day.
The Jeep Wrangler (and other variations) has been America's crazy, off-road vehicle of choice for generations. Whether invading foreign countries or merely invading the muddy backwoods of America the Jeep has been the vehicle of choice for adventure. The competition for this kind of rugged spirit has been the other vehicle of choice for invading foreign countries... sort of. The Hummer H2 isn't exactly, or in any way, like the Humvee used by the military. Nevertheless, the H2 was a popular vehicle with people who at least wanted to appear rugged. Slumping sales aside, the H2 is based on the GMT800 platform previously used by GM's large SUVs and therefore would theoretically have to be replaced at some point. There may be some future for the uncertain Hummer brand merged with Jeep, but Hummer doesn't have any platforms that Jeep would want. The Wrangler's on a relatively new platform and, if it's like other Wrangler platforms, should last for another five years at least. Winner here? Chrysler. Or Jeep, rather.
Though GM and Chrysler both make midsize trucks in the form of the GMC Canyon/Chevy Colorado and Dodge Dakota, neither has been competitive in the market recently and neither platform seems to have much future. Either the merged company develops a car/crossover-based truck to capture a different part of the segment or General Mopar just accepts defeat and abandons the segment altogether. Of the three trucks, only the Dakota nameplate seems worth saving. Maybe put it on a rebadged Frontier platform like Suzuki.
Perhaps the most difficult part of a merger between these two companies would be deciding what to do with all the truck platforms. We've established the GMT-900, which underpins the GMC Sierra/Chevy Silverado, isn't going anywhere anytime soon. On the other hand, the 2009 Dodge Ram is a platform that's been recently developed and will therefore not be shuffling off anytime soon either. Additionally, Chrysler announced it would be building the new Nissan Titan on the Dodge Ram platform. Where does this leave us? For the short term it doesn't make much sense to abandon either platform and, given production capacity, it doesn't make much sense to quickly merge either truck onto the other platform. It could make sense to use the Ram to continue to bring in the buyers looking for a cheap n' dirty pickup, and try to bring in the high-dollar truck buyers with the GMT-900 twins. Eventually, they'd have to decide on one co-developed platform, but that is years off — by that time, Dodge probably wouldn't so much exist as a brand. However, since it'd be owned by GM, it could exist almost forever. Exhibit A in that story? Buick.
The sports car market is easy. GM makes the Kappa-based Saturn Sky and Pontiac Solstice and Chrysler makes nothing — at least since they got out of that marriage of unequals with Daimler.
This is another tricky area as the Muscle Car Wars have just been reignited and the Dodge Challenger and the 2010 Chevy Camaro are a big part of that ongoing battle. The Camaro may have the advantage due to the fact that it's Zeta-based architecture is going to be around for a while and the car is slightly newer. The Challenger is based on the same LC/LX platform as the Charger and 300C. It probably behooves the automakers to keep this competition going for the near future as it tries to sell both. If the merger does happen the Challenger could potentially be the last remaining LX platform derived car — and exist happily as such — for quite a few years.
Both the Corvette and Viper serve as halo cars for their respective automakers, spreading excitement and capturing the adoration and imagination of prospective buyers. There are two main differences between the Corvette and Viper. Whereas the Viper is a relatively small production car at a very high price, the Corvette is a mass-produced sports car that comes in many, many flavors. The Corvette is going nowhere anytime soon but the Viper, well, we've heard bad things about its future. Again, win for GM.
GM has poured its heart, soul and a lot of its money into the 2011 Chevy Volt, making it as close to a make-or-break vehicle as they've had in recent history. It's GM's next big idea. Chrysler has no big hybrid planned for the future — no matter what they say.
Lacking a vehicle like the Volt, Chrysler has instead the Lotus-based Dodge EV electric sports car, the Jeep EV electric Jeep and the Chrysler EV electric minivan. Will these vehicles really happen? Who knows. Unlike the Volt, the EV doesn't appear to be as far along and, as far as we can tell, none of the vehicles have been approved for production.
Sure, there's great opportunity here and given the decimation of Chrysler's engineering ranks, the next few cars out of Chrysler or Dodge could very easily (with a few hundred million dollars) be re-badged GM vehicles. But, as Wert said — the real merger is going to be about showing GM the money. For the merger to work and really become reality, it'll be less about the product lineup than it will be about how much cash Cerberus is willing to drop on the table to go with Chrysler. Because above all, that's what GM needs. Also, a minivan. That would be nice. [Photo Credit: Harry How/Getty Images]