[Herald Interview] Riding on SUV boom, FCA scores in Korea

By Korea Herald

On growing SUV demand, FCA Korea reaps 27.6% in sales on-year in Q1

  • Published : May 9, 2017 - 13:14
  • Updated : May 9, 2017 - 18:21
When looking back over the past five years in South Korea, Pablo Rosso, president of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Korea, sees a clear change in the local automobile market.

Not only has the number of foreign cars surged, from 10 percent in 2012 to 14.3 percent in 2016, but market demand for unique cars -- in color and features -- has grown as an alternative to mass-produced domestic sedans. And that is what FCA could offer best, he said. 
Pablo Rosso, president of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Korea (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)

Armed with a wide range of SUVs and compact sedans of iconic designs, FCA Korea has been seeking ways to expand its presence in the market of import cars, which has long been dominated by German brands. Driven by the popularity of Jeep, in which the carmaker takes pride in as the original SUV brand, it saw a 27.6 percent increase in sales in the first quarter. Jeep accounted for 76.6 percent of FCA Korea’s sales last year. Jeep is the only SUV brand here with a full lineup from the small to big SUV segment, the company said.

With new vehicles coming up, including the New Jeep Compass in the final quarter of this year, the company is confident in achieving two-digit growth this year.

“In the beginning of last year, the image of import cars was not as good as it was before. People started to buy SUVs and more petro engines of which we are a bit competitive,” said Rosso in an interview with The Korea Herald.

“In the first quarter, we did 27 percent more on-year. We have product launches coming up in the second quarter. I am sure that we will achieve (two-digit growth).”

The growth strategy comes from Rosso’s analysis of the import car market in which he sees a growing number of people looking for alternatives.

“With free trade agreements and the bigger size of the Korean economy, people are looking for alternatives, and that is how the explosion of import cars came in,” he said.

“Korean brands have also started to react to that change (by bringing) new body, cuter cars. But consumers are still looking for different alternatives, becoming more aligned with European and American cars (that have) more colors, and contents.”

“Alternatives” doesn’t necessarily mean luxury cars, according to Rosso.

“I don’t think we are offered for a few people. I don’t want to be a luxury for a few. (We want to be) accessible and affordable for some.”

The CEO also takes Hyundai’s launch of the compact SUV Kona this summer as an opportunity.

Prior to Kona, FCA Korea plans to launch the Jeep Renegade Trailhawk, the smallest offering in the Jeep line, in May.

“I welcome the arrival of the Kona. It will create a buzz when it comes to the segment, and we are going to fit into that segment.”

Prior to being stationed in Seoul in 2013, Rosso served various posts within Fiat Group including the head of the Fiat India Commercial Project as well as the sales area manager in charge of Fiat, Alfa Romeo and Lancia brands in Europe and Portugal. He joined Fiat in 2002 after obtaining a master’s degree in economics, finance and administration at University of California, San Diego. He also earned another master’s degree in marketing, sales and service from Facolta di Economia Torino in Italy in 2006. South Korea is his first country to work as a chief.

As part of efforts to improve customer satisfaction as well as strengthen ties with Jeep loyalists, the company is planning to throw a big party next month.

The Jeep camp in its 13th event will take place at Welli Hilli Park in Gangwon Province from June 3 to 6, inviting 1,000 teams this year, a big twist from previous years that had around 200 teams each.

“We are extending (the event) to 1,000 teams, which makes about 3,000-4,000 people. We want people to experience the Jeep spirit,” he said, calling Jeep customers “doers and dreamers.”

When asked of the Jeep spirit, Rosso said: “passion, adventure, authenticity and freedom. Going anywhere anytime.”

By Cho Chung-un(