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Breakingviews - Fiat and Peugeot throw stardust into new car mix

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MILAN (Reuters Breakingviews) - Is Stellantis a new cocktail, a lost city, a painkiller or the easyJet founder? Nope – it’s the new name for the entity that will emerge from the combination of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, and Peugeot’s owner PSA. They’re clearly seeking to add futuristic sparkle to their plan to create the world’s fourth-biggest carmaker. But actions matter more than words - even newly conjured ones. 

For those unacquainted with dead languages, the new name might evoke the sunken city of Atlantis. In fact, it’s derived from the Latin suggesting star-like brightness. It’s both an homage to the carmakers’ European roots and an attempt to project them into another century. It is also a step forward to sealing their union, slated for the first quarter of 2021.

Stellantis will in any case only be used at group level. The merged group’s constellation of car brands, including Jeep, Maserati and Opel, will retain their individual names and logos. This is a smart, and tested strategy: finding a new name is tricky and it takes time for customers to warm up to a novel corporate identity. Parisian fashion conglomerate Kering, formerly PPR, renamed itself in 2013 but kept intact famed brands in its luxury portfolio, including its flagship Gucci. 

Projecting a more modern image will, in any case, take more than reprinting stationery and signs. The two carmakers, for instance, have long lagged global competitors in the race to embrace electric-powered and self-driving vehicles. Part of the rationale for merging is to pool R&D spending badly needed to speed up the transition to a post-combustion engine future. Like others who have boldly rebranded before them - from Diageo and Mondelez International to Altria and Accenture – transforming the business, not the name, will be the ultimate test.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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