Monday and Tuesday, March 30-31, probably will be the most advantageous days of the foreseeable future for U.S. consumers to buy a new Fiat Chrysler vehicle.
You see, those two days are likely to determine whether FCA US’s self-described “Iron Man” streak of year-over-year sales gains will reach five consecutive years -- or will stop at an impressive but awkward 4 years and 11 months.
Need some sports metaphors to put this into context? Imagine a marathon runner pulling up lame within sight of the finish line, or a racecar driver running out of gas on the last lap of 24 hours at Le Mans.
It doesn’t take a marketing genius to know which of those two choices FCA would prefer to tout as evidence of its phoenix-like rise from the wake of Chrysler’s 2009 bankruptcy.
Yet extending the streak keeps getting harder and harder the longer it goes, like a Tour de France bicycle race run entirely on an increasingly steep uphill climb.
In order to reach five full years of sales growth on April 1, FCA will have to top the 193,915 vehicles it sold in March 2014, a figure that was 13 percent higher than sales in March 2013.
But this year, March has one fewer selling day and -- more importantly -- one fewer weekend than March 2014. Those things might not matter in monthly sales reports, but they matter on the sales floor at FCA’s 2,500 U.S. dealerships.
FCA also started out its sales climb this month in a hole: last March, it sold 8,756 Dodge Avengers after the inexpensive sedan had gone out of production that January. On March 1, it reported just 806 remaining Avengers in stock. Minivan sales have also slowed after the Windsor Assembly plant was idled in mid-February for retooling.
The new Jeep Renegade could help, but with two-thirds of March in the books, it is only now just arriving at dealerships nationwide. The other newly arrived vehicles -- the Ram ProMaster City and Alfa Romeo 4C -- won’t sell in anything close to significant numbers to provide a decent lift.
To be sure, FCA’s Iron Man streak is an important source of pride within the company and its executive ranks. A year ago, when the streak hit four years, Gualberto Ranieri, FCA’s head of global communications, explained its importance.
“The streak has become far more than just percentage increases that we cite at the conclusion of each month. We are proud of this streak and how it has transformed from a curiosity into a symbol of our continuing success in the marketplace,” Ranieri wrote in a blog. He also wrote that, “we realize that all streaks eventually come to an end, and we don’t want to see that happen any time soon.”
For dealers chasing FCA’s monthly stair-step incentives, powering the sales streak can sometimes lead them to make deals they normally wouldn’t -- such as selling a $34,000 Chrysler 200 for $25,000 and change to make a set monthly quota of 200s. FCA’s costs could balloon exponentially as well if it sacrifices profits at some point to keep the streak alive unnaturally.
So what’s all this mean? It’s pretty simple, really.
Five years of straight sales gains is a hell of an accomplishment.
Getting to that point at the end of this month might make for some stupidly good deals for consumers.
And if the streak does reach 60 consecutive months in March, it might be best for all involved to just let it die a natural death.