Chrysler name fades in FCA era

Michael Wayland
The Detroit News

There's the magnificent Art Deco Chrysler Building in New York City, and the Chrysler Museum of Art in Virginia. Closer to home, there's Chrysler Elementary School on Lafayette in Detroit, the Chrysler Freeway and Chrysler House, a satellite office in downtown Detroit where some auto execs are billeted.

There are three vehicles — the 300, 200 and Town & Country minivan — that bear the surname of founder Walter P. Chrysler.

But in Auburn Hills, it's the end of the road for the Chrysler Group LLC name.

Chrysler Group LLC on Tuesday announced it has renamed itself FCA US LLC to better align with its global parent, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV.

Despite the name change, cars will continue to travel the Chrysler Freeway, and the Chrysler Building will continue to stand. The company even plans to grow the Chrysler-brand lineup to six vehicles by 2018. It will not affect the firm's Auburn Hills headquarters or business operations.

Ed Garsten, head of digital media for the company, wrote in a blog post Tuesday: "When you think about it, when someone changes their name from Smith to Jones for personal or professional reasons, they're still the same person."

The company has had several owners and names. Chrysler Group, the most recent name, has only been around for five years. It formed in 2009 after Italian automaker Fiat SpA, which merged into Fiat Chrysler in October, took a minority stake in the post-bankrupt automaker.

Before then, it was known as Chrysler LLC (2007-09) under majority owner Cerberus Capital Management, a private equity firm; Daimler Chrysler AG (1998-2007) as part of a tieup with Daimler-Benz AG; and Chrysler Corp. (1925-98).

"FCA US continues to build upon the solid foundations first established by Walter P. Chrysler in 1925 as well as a rich Fiat heritage that dates from 1899," the company said.

Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne will remain at the helm of Fiat Chrysler and FCA US, which covers the company's operations in the U.S. Canada, and Mexico.

The writing was on the wall for the newest name change. Since announcing the corporate Fiat Chrysler name in January, officials have steadily changed Chrysler names and logos on social media, websites and signage.

Most notably, on May 6, a day when executives outlined a five-year plan for the company, officials changed the Chrysler sign at its world headquarters at 1000 Chrysler Drive to read "FCA" and "Fiat Chrysler Automobiles."

A company spokeswoman said the company has "no changes to announce at this time" about any additional sign changes or new logos.

Chrysler's iconic Pentastar logo remains atop the tower of the headquarters, but not at too many other places.

The naming is in line with other global automakers, such as General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co., that name each region they do business in under the corporate name.

Automotive analysts as well as the company officials downplayed significance of the newest name change.

"What matters most is the individual vehicle brands and the impact on consumers," said Michelle Krebs, senior analyst. "And it will be nil in this case."

Along with the Chrysler brand, FCA US will continue to design, engineer, manufacture and sell vehicles under the Jeep, Dodge, Ram and Fiat brands as well as the SRT performance vehicle designation. It also will continue to distribute the Alfa Romeo 4C model and Mopar products.

"Car shoppers are often unaware of these corporate naming structures, instead paying far more attention to a vehicle's badge, the name on a dealership or the name referenced in marketing messages," Karl Brauer, Kelley Blue Book senior analyst, said in a statement.

FCA US — as Chrysler Group did — employs more than 77,000 employees worldwide, with 96 percent of its workforce based in North America. FCA US operates 36 manufacturing facilities, including 23 in the United States, six in Canada and seven in Mexico.

Parent company Fiat Chrysler Automobiles — the seventh-largest automaker in the the world based on total annual vehicle sales — also announced that Fiat Group Automobiles SpA, its Italian unit, has changed its company name to FCA Italy SpA.

"The name change, which represents the latest phase in adoption of the FCA corporate identity, is intended to emphasize the fact that all group companies worldwide are part of a single organization," Fiat Chrysler said in a separate news release.

Over the next few months, Fiat Chrysler said other subsidiaries will undergo similar name changes.

Fiat Chrysler is registered in the Netherlands, based in London for tax purposes and listed primarily on the New York Stock Exchange with a secondary listing in Italy. It is traded on the NYSE under "FCAU."