The news of the merger of Fiat-Chrysler (FCA) and Peugeot-Citroën (PSA) has gotten many of us here on the USS Jalopnuts pretty excited, not necessarily for rational reasons, but more because the idea of any French carmaker re-entering the U.S. market is interesting, and the possible mash-ups of cars from such a merger are always entertaining to think about. My first thought is that the biggest possible beneficiary of this merger could be the venerable old Chrysler brand, so I decided to take one of those green pills I found in the glovebox of an abandoned Valiant and do a little product planning daydreaming. Join me, won’t you?
I think Chrysler is the brand in the best position to benefit from the merger because, let’s face it, Chrysler is pretty much a zombie right now, a zombie that sells an excellent minivan and a handsome but aged full-sized sedan from two mergers ago.
That’s Chrysler’s lineup. That’s really twice as many cars as they actually offer, since they’re repeating one minivan three times, just in somewhat different versions.
So, Chrysler’s pretty stagnant, and as such is ready to get French kissed back into French life with a mouthful of French dressing and French fries and maybe a French horn.
Luckily, Chrysler has a rich history that’s ready to be exhumed and debased for modern relevance, and I think that out of PSA’s brands—Peugeot, Citroën, DS, Opel, and Vauxhall—there’s some pretty good fits in there to help make Chrysler relevant again.
In case you’re curious, none of the useful stuff is part of Opel or Vauxhall, at least not yet. I’m guessing you’re not shocked.
What needs to happen is that Chrysler needs to come back as a true American luxury brand—something that’s the equal of Cadillac or Lincoln, but with a focus more on design and refinement than, say, Cadillac’s more performance-oriented, BMW-aping tone, or Lincoln’s whatever the hell Matthew McConaughey is going on about.
First, they have to kill the 300. It’s had a good run. Let the old girl retire.
Next, Chrysler needs to bring back storied nameplates from their past, and contort high-end French cars and SUVs to feel like those older icons, because this is how the world works now. I think it could actually work. For example:
Back in the 1930s, Chrysler undertook a very bold experiment in aerodynamic design that, while something of a commercial disaster, ended up becoming an icon of automotive design, and is perhaps one of the best mass-market Art Deco car designs ever. It’s a striking car that shows what bold risks Chrysler was once willing to take.
An all-new Chrysler Airflow could be created from one of PSA’s flagship vehicles, the DS5 crossover. DS is a Citroën spin-off brand for their higher-end cars, sort of like Citroën’s Lexus or Acura. The name comes from the legendary Citroën DS, a car renowned for its comfort, something that the DS brand still excels at.
The focus on comfort and refinement could be what sets the new Airflow apart, since the old ideal of American floating-couch luxury was effectively abandoned by Cadillac and Lincoln, and the French comfort ideal has actually always been oddly parallel to American tastes.
As you can see in my quick and goofy mockup there, Deco design cues from the original Airflow—especially the waterfall grille—could be applied to the DS5, which already has a dramatic and aerodynamic look.
The crossover body type is already what people want, and something like this could really stand out in the crowded and largely anonymous field of premium crossovers.
Just like we turned pommes frites into something so American I think it has opinions about kneeling during the national anthem, we can do the same with turning French luxury American.
Another still-powerful old Chrysler nameplate is the Imperial. The Imperial should come back, this time as a massive, ultra-luxury full-size SUV.
The grille and light treatment can come from Chrysler’s imposing 2006 Imperial concept car, which managed an interesting modern take on the Imperial design vocabulary. Imperials have always been about vast proportions and presence, and I think would adapt very well to the scale of a large SUV.
The new Imperial SUV would compete against the Cadillac Escalade, Lincoln Navigator, Lexus’ big SUVs, Range Rovers, and so on. This is not a subtle vehicle, but Imperials never were.
Remember, they once had a rear end that looked like this
...with that huge bird. A big, blingy SUV is absolutely on-brand for Imperial.
Okay, this last one is a bit less fleshed out, but I think has a place:
Though the Avenger name was arguably bigger as one of Chrysler’s European brands like Hillman, the Avenger was always a sort of sporty car for Chrysler, and I think a modern version, based on the Citroën C3 and with output goosed by FCA’s team of horsepower-squeezers (one thing they’re definitely very good at) could be a fun, premium hot hatch, something to compete with the GTI, for example.
I’m not sure how to best tweak the styling, since I like the unusual look of the C3 already, but I’m sure Chrysler can figure that out. Maybe some interesting inset materials to replace the rubber bubbles, like aluminum or stainless steel or bamboo?
Think luxury hot hatch. There are not many players in that space right now, so this could become a good place for Chrysler to make a mark.
I think, really, any change, any attention given to Chrysler can only help. PSA has a whole bunch of interesting stuff, and I hope the resulting company has the pentastars to take some risks with Chrysler. I mean, what do they have to lose?