“Because they continue to have the heaviest reliance on SUVs and trucks of all automakers, they're also the most vulnerable to rising gas prices,” Toprak said.
Fred Diaz, Chrysler Group's lead sales executive and CEO of the Ram brand, on Tuesday said: “Chrysler Group 2010 sales of 1.1 million units are consistent with our sales objective presented in our Nov. 4, 2009, five-year business plan.”
Leading the way for Chrysler in 2010 was the Ram full-sized pickup, which finished strong in December, up 93 percent for the month, to finish the year just shy of 200,000 sales. That means the Ram accounts for more than one in every five Chrysler Group vehicles sold.
Chrysler's other mainstays, its minivan siblings, also increased sales in 2010. The Chrysler Town & Country sold 112,275, up 33 percent from 2009 and the Dodge Grand Caravan sold 103,323, up 14 percent, putting them second and third for the company. Both received makeovers for 2011, which included new interiors and Chrysler's new Pentastar V-6 engine.
The Jeep Grand Cherokee, the only one of Chrysler's 16 new or revamped 2011 products to arrive early enough to register meaningful sales, shot up 68 percent to 84,635 units.
“The Jeep brand continues to be the best thing Chrysler has going. There are still too many dogs in the house (Patriot, Compass, Liberty), but the Wrangler and Grand Cherokee have HUGE brand equity," wrote Edmunds.com Senior Analyst Karl Brauer in a report Tuesday.
Among Chrysler's car offerings, the Dodge Charger was the star of 2010 with sales of 75,397, double that of its stablemate, the Chrysler 300, which sold 37,116. The Charger number was a 24 percent increase from 2009, while the 300 dropped 4 percent. Both vehicles are being replaced with re-engineered, restyled models in the first quarter of 2011.
Most dealers have not seen many 2011 vehicles yet, and some 2011 models won't arrive in significant volumes until later in the first quarter.
“By the end of the first quarter, they'll all be there in some sort of volume,” said Chrysler spokesman Ralph Kisiel.
Chrysler will have to await the arrival of a generation of new Fiat-based cars to see a bigger bump in car sales. Those will include Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Ram products with Fiat technologies or Fiat platforms.
Among those will be the Fiat 500 minicar, already in production in Mexico and being launched in the first quarter as a 2011 model. A Fiat-based Dodge compact sedan is due late in 2011. Other vehicles will arrive in 2012 and 2013.
Said Toprak: “They can't get those Fiats soon enough.”