What's Powering Fiat Chrysler Automobiles? Jeeps, Rams -- and Muscle Cars

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (NYSE: FCAU) said that its U.S. sales rose 8% in June on strong sales of Jeeps, Ram trucks, and its iconic Dodge muscle cars.

FCA's sales gain outpaced year-over-year sales increases at both of its traditional Detroit rivals, Ford Motor Company (NYSE: F) and General Motors (NYSE: GM), as well as the market's overall 5.7% gain for the month.

Year to date, FCA's U.S. sales are up 5%.

How FCA fared against key rivals in June

Here's a look at how FCA's June sales result stacks up against its five biggest rivals in the U.S. new-vehicle market.

Automaker June 2018 U.S. Sales Change vs. June 2017
General Motors 256,976 5.7%
Ford 230,635 1.2%
Toyota 209,602 3.6%
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles 202,264 8%
Honda 146,563 4.8%
Nissan 145,096 1.2%

High and low points from FCA's June sales report

The high points:

  • Jeeps, Jeeps, and more Jeeps. Consumer demand for SUVs is sky-high, and the most iconic of SUV brands is taking full advantage. Jeep sales rose 19% in June from a very good year-ago result, thanks to its three freshest models.
  • Some of the Jeep numbers are eye-popping. Sales of the redesigned Jeep Compass rose 82% from its predecessor's year-ago result. Sales of the midsize Cherokee, now built in a larger factory, rose 89%. Sales of the all-new Wrangler jumped 23%.
  • FCA has had some trouble getting its all-new 2019 Ram into full production. But the mix of old and new trucks on dealer lots is still selling pretty well: Sales rose 1% in June, to 43,542.
  • The Dodge Charger sedan and Challenger coupe are dated designs competing in a market where car-buyers have been scarce. But these aren't ordinary cars, and few automakers can match FCA when it comes to keeping its brands' fans engaged. Sales of the Charger and Challenger rose 4% and 3%, respectively, last month. Take note: Especially in the popular high-performance trims, these are very profitable products for FCA.
  • The Challenger was last revamped in 2015, and its basic structure goes all the way back to 2008. But newness isn't everything: GM's Chevrolet Camaro was all-new for 2016, but the Challenger out-sold it in the second quarter, 19,179 to 13,588.
  • Alfa Romeo sales more than doubled, to 2,249, on strong demand for the sporty Stelvio crossover SUV.

The low points:

  • Chrysler-brand sales fell 32% to just 13,484. Chrysler's Pacifica minivan gets great reviews -- and as minivans go, it's gorgeous -- but potential buyers seem to be choosing Jeeps instead. Pacifica sales slumped 26% in June.
  • Chrysler's only other model at the moment is the big 300 sedan. it's an upscale sibling of the Dodge Charger, but it doesn't share its brawny sibling's enduring appeal. Sales fell 19% last month to just 4,318.
  • The little Fiat 500 charmed Americans when it first went on sale here, but these days the charms are falling flat: Fiat sales fell 36% to just 1,426 last month.
  • There's little to criticize about Jeep's results, but there is one eyebrow-raiser: Sales of the Grand Cherokee, the brand's biggest and most expensive model, fell 12% last month. Sales are still decent, but the Grand Cherokee may be ready for a redesign.

The upshot: As Jeep goes, so goes FCA

It's no secret that the Italian-American automaker's fortunes are tied to the Jeep brand right now. Aside from the steady-selling Ram pickups and the new Alfa Romeos, much of the company's lineup beyond Jeep is dated -- and most of it, aside from the brawny Dodge twins, is uncompetitive with newer, fresher products from rivals.

FCA has a lot of new models in the works, but it's depending on continued strong Jeep results to get them finished and to market. The good news is that Jeeps continue to fly off U.S. dealer lots at strong prices, making it likely that its second-quarter profit will build on a solid first-quarter result. We'll find out when FCA reports earnings on July 25.

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John Rosevear owns shares of Ford and General Motors. The Motley Fool recommends Ford. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.