TURIN -- Sergio Marchionne's plan to improve slow sales of the Fiat and Lancia brands in Europe through rebadged Chrysler models is getting mixed results.
The Fiat Freemont, a rebadged Dodge Journey large crossover, is off to a good start. Fiat aims to sell 30,000 Freemonts in Europe this year. It sold 6,498 Freemonts in the first quarter, according to market researchers JATO Dynamics.
But the Lancia Thema large sedan and the Voyager large minivan, are selling at a slow pace. The Thema is a rebadged Chrysler 300, and the Voyager is a rebadged Chrysler Town & Country.
Lancia sales have been hit by a luxury tax introduced Jan. 1 by the cash-strapped Italian government. The tax penalizes buyers of cars with more than 252 hp. Owners of the 285-hp Thema gasoline version must pay $648 a year in luxury tax.
The Thema's diesel version and the Voyager are not subject to the tax, but sales of these models are slow because fewer Italians can afford to buy large vehicles.
"The typical Voyager buyer in Italy, a large family or a hotel owner, is delaying any vehicle replacement due to the general economic uncertainties," Piero Mocarelli, owner of Mocauto, one of Italy's largest Lancia dealers, told Automotive News Europe.
Both the Fiat and Lancia brands are being hit by the collapse of their home market of Italy, where tough austerity measures are hitting consumers' spending power.
For the Thema, the sales pace suggests a full-year volume of about 2,400, a quarter of Marchionne's 10,000-unit target.
Marchionne's goal is to sell 11,000 Voyagers this year, but first-quarter sales were just 1,342.