Christine Feuell was out of the auto industry just long enough to miss the slow, painful decline in sales of minivans made by Chrysler and everyone else. And sure enough, as the new CEO of Stellantis’s Chrysler brand over the last year or so, Feuell has been presiding over a surprising revival of fortune for Pacifica, the company’s minivan model.
In fact, this success has helped encourage Chrysler parent Stellantis to think in blue-sky terms about the Chrysler brand for the first time in more than a decade. Feuell and her boss, Stellantis CEO Carlos Tavares, want to add a few more models to the Chrysler lineup, put it in the vanguard of the automaker’s electrification effort, and flesh out its product range to an extent not seen since before the Great Recession.
“The brand is down to two nameplates, Pacifica and the 300” sedan, Feuell acknowledged in an interview with me, referring to the five-year-old reinvented form of Chrysler’s 40-year-old minivan franchise and Chrysler’s very-long-in-the-tooth remaining sedan.
“But we’ve talked about our brand-revitalization strategy. We’re going 100% battery-electric vehicle by 2028. Chrysler will be the sustainability pillar for Stellantis in North America. We’re transforming the brand to become more contemporary and modern, and incorporate the latest technology, but positioned for the mainstream market.”
To help out her vision board, however, one thing Feuell did is find out more about the brand’s roots, and there she discovered that her plans for Chrysler fall very much in line with the original aspirations of founder Walter P. Chrysler.
“I took a look at some of the presentations and quotes from Walter P. Chrysler at the very beginning, and one of my favorites is that ‘we will deliver quality, beauty, speed, comfort, style and power all at a low price.’ That was very representative of what Chrysler was: an innovative company that created breakthrough solutions and features but for the mainstream market.” She added, “The Chrysler brand has always been aspirational but accessible. I think it’s important for us to maintain that positioning strategy, but we definitely need to modernize the brand, brint to market more contemporary offerings.”
Thus, Feuell said, Chrysler will bring to market “at least three new products over the course of the next few years, including a couple of sport-utility vehicles. “We haven’t been in the SUV segment in almost eight years,” she said, since the Chrysler Aspen.
Even more important, Feuell said, Chrysler will emerge as the bell cow in the U.S. for Stellantis’s tardy but accelerating electrification efforts. Pacifica already beat minivan competitors to the punch in offering a hybrid version. Now, at a time when not only the auto industry but many others are electrifying with speed in various ways, Feuell likes the fact that her brand is leading the way for the entire company.
Feuell is a former automotive hand, at Ford, and came back to the industry from stints at Johnson Controls and at Honeywell, with progressively greater responsibilities in sales, marketing, product management and P&L leadership. She established what Tavares called “a strong track record of delivering profitable growth through integrated products, software and services.”
In returning to the auto industry to helm Chrysler, of course Feuell was well aware of the brand’s history, which included not just its founder but another legendary figure: Lee Iacocca. The inimitable marketeer famously said in Chrysler advertising in the 1980s, “If you can find a better car, buy it” — even though at the time the original member of Detroit’s Big Three triumvirate basically was wheezing along on plain-vanilla models known as “K cars.” Iacocca’s bluster basically kept the company alive.
Now, it’s Feuell’s turn to apply her own brand of leadership to revive the Chrysler brand legacy.
“I showed I would bring a different kind of thinking to the business and the brand,” Feuell told me. “I’m excited to be part of the revitalization of such an iconic brand, which I think we can grow and continue to differentiate.”