With all divisions posting double-digit sales increases last year, the Chrysler Group was the fastest-growing full-line automaker in the country in 2011, ringing up an overall sales jump of more than 26 percent and boosting market share by 1.3 points—the most of any automaker of any kind. And impressively, that growth was spread out equally among the company’s car and truck lines, with the former notching a 25 percent improvement and the latter moving sales ahead by 27 percent.
For the Chrysler division proper, which increased sales by 12 percent last year, it was the Chrysler 200 mid-size sedan leading the way. Building off the game-changing “Imported from Detroit” marketing campaign—with an assist from Eminem—the 200 lifted sales of Chrysler’s mid-size sedans by some 127 percent as compared to the car it replaced, including a 660 percent jump in December alone. The 2012 Chrysler 300 has begun contributing as well, with its ever-increasing refinement and tech advances like an available eight-speed automatic transmission helping the sedan to a 242 percent leap in deliveries last month. With the Chrysler PT Cruiser and Chrysler Aspen no longer going concerns, the only other member of the brand’s roster, the Chrysler Town & Country minivan, endured an 18 percent decrease in sales.
The top-performing division for the automaker—and one of the fastest-growing brands in the country in 2011—was Jeep. The roster as a whole garnered a spectacular 44 percent increase in deliveries as compared to its results from 2010, with the “worst” performer, the Jeep Wrangler, achieving a 30 percent sales lift that still represented its seventh consecutive monthly volume record. Also noteworthy was the customer response to the refreshed Jeep Compass, which reaped a 1,035 percent sales improvement in December, on its way to a 200 percent gain for the year in full. The marks for the rest of the crew: Jeep Patriot, +41 percent; Jeep Liberty, +35 percent; and Jeep Grand Cherokee, coming off its best sales month in six years, finished at +51 percent.
Dodge was a brand in transition last year, seeing off the Dodge Caliber and Dodge Nitro while welcoming the all-new Dodge Durango and heavily massaged versions of the Dodge Avenger and Dodge Charger. The result was an 18 percent overall gain for the brand, but without any vehicle really having a standout year. The bottom line for the Durango, for example, was a nearly 9,000 percent jump in annual deliveries, but that’s primarily because Dodge sold only 572 of them in 2010; the Durango’s volume of 51,697 units trailed that of the veteran Dodge Journey by about 3,500 vehicles. On the other hand, similar to the case at Chrysler, the Dodge brand’s core sedans are seeing growing momentum. The Avenger kicked sales northward by 77 percent last month and 26 percent for the year, while the 2012 Charger pumped up the volume by 227 percent in December, although even with that strong finish, the car netted a 7 percent sales drop for the year as a whole. Deliveries of the Dodge Challenger and Dodge Grand Caravan were each up a modest 7 percent.
The Chrysler Group’s other two divisions, Ram and Fiat, are both essentially one-vehicle brands operating at two extremes of the marketplace and achieving extremely different kinds of sales numbers in 2011. The Ram pickup family turned things around fairly well last year, growing sales by 23 percent to become the fastest-growing full-size pickup in America in 2011—no mean feat. The Fiat 500, though, is continuing to struggle to find customers, as the company delivered 19,769 units of the Italian icon during the past year, which means it was outsold by both the outgoing Caliber and Nitro, and by healthy margins.
Coincidentally, the contrast between the sales performance of the 500 and that of the new, well-received Chrysler Group products mirrors the overall situation between Fiat and Chrysler. On a global scale, it’s the partnership’s Italian member that is suddenly struggling and the American that is in an increasingly positive place in the industry. Surprisingly, with the Dodge Dart finally on its way to provide American customers with a next-gen mainstream small car, the biggest obstacle to the Chrysler Group’s continued success just may come from its erstwhile savior.