A Plat­inum re­al­ity check on ‘jobs for Amer­ica’

The Washington Post Sunday - - CARS - War­ren Brown war­ren.brown@wash­post.com

It is a big Amer­i­can sedan made by an Ital­ian-Amer­i­can com­pany, as­sem­bled in Bramp­ton, On­tario — and orig­i­nally de­signed in the United States by an African Amer­i­can.

Such are the twists and turns of “jobs for Amer­ica.” Amer­i­cans might be able to keep those jobs as long as Amer­i­cans are will­ing to buy those cars in the United States of Amer­ica. That is nei­ther promised nor guar­an­teed. Nor can it be or­dered or de­manded by this new U.S. pres­i­den­tial ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Take this week’s sub­ject au­to­mo­bile, the 2017 Chrysler 300-C Plat­inum. Not many of them are sold world­wide, which is the arena in which most new au­to­mo­biles have to com­pete. It would be as­sem­bled in Amer­ica if do­ing so would make a prof­itable busi­ness case for the car. It doesn’t.

Italy-based Fiat Chrysler Au­to­mo­biles, which now owns all of once all-Amer­i­can Chrysler, has to as­sem­ble the 300-C where it can do so at the low­est costs and sell it world­wide for the most money. Chrysler Corp., once all-Amer­i­canowned, couldn’t do that and slid into bank­ruptcy. That is why it is now owned by Italy’s Fiat.

But let’s get to the real thing that con­trols “jobs for Amer­ica,” es­pe­cially in the au­to­mo­bile in­dus­try. It’s sales. That is why Honda, Toy­ota, Hyundai, Kia, BMW and Mercedes-Benz de­sign and man­u­fac­ture large vol­umes of their cars here in­stead of in their home coun­tries. They don’t do it to please Pres­i­dent Trump any more than they do it to dis­please lead­ers and work­ers in their home coun­tries. They do it be­cause they are build­ing and sell­ing many cars many Amer­i­cans want to buy. It’s money, not pol­i­tics.

Now, let us look at the 300-C, which was de­signed by the very tal­ented Ralph Gilles in 2001 and went on sale in the United States in 2004. Gilles wanted a mo­tor­ized ur­ban re­nais­sance, specif­i­cally a car that be­spoke Detroit funk and Euro­pean so­phis­ti­ca­tion. He nailed it with the full-size, rear-wheel-drive 300-C, which was a hot num­ber for a while.

Some 112,930 300-Cs were sold in the United States in its 2004 de­but year. But sales fell to 53,241 in 2016. The sec­ond gen­er­a­tion of the car was sold as the Fiat Lan­cia Thema in much of Europe in 2011 and re­mained as the Amer­i­can-badged Chrysler 300-C in U.S.-friendly na­tions, Bri­tain and Ire­land.

The car is sold to­day in the United States as the Chrysler 300 (base), 300-S, 300-C, and top-of-the-line 300-C Plat­inum.

It is a good car — lux­u­ri­ous, quiet on the road, com­fort­able, and equipped with all of the lat­est ad­vanced elec­tronic safety ap­point­ments. The six-cylin­der 300-C Plat­inum is even rel­a­tively fuel-ef­fi­cient at 30 miles per gal­lon on the high­way and 19 miles per gal­lon in the city us­ing reg­u­lar-grade gaso­line. But at a fully loaded price of $48,855, ap­par­ently as in­ex­pen­sive as Fiat Chrysler could man­u­fac­ture the car in Canada, it is not go­ing to take sales from the equally nice and of­ten less-ex­pen­sive Hyundai and Kia cars made by Amer­i­cans in the United States. Nor will it draw pres­tige-ori­ented buy­ers from ex­pen­sive BMW and Mercedes-Benz mod­els made in Amer­ica.

That is the real world, as op­posed to the World of Trump. Jobs rely on sales and prof­its. Sales de­pend on con­sumer wishes and wants. Sales ul­ti­mately rule.

But the 300-C Plat­inum, equipped with the stan­dard 3.6-liter V-6 for this col­umn (292 horse­power, 260 pound-feet of torque), is a very nice car that, de­spite be­ing made in Canada, ref­er­ences all things Detroit. It is just that Fiat Chrysler is not likely to sell enough of them in the United States to prof­itably jus­tify build­ing them here.

It’s a very nice car — but not likely to sell well enough for Fiat Chrysler to make it here.


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