After the story appeared in The New York Times, Marchionne refused to confirm he’d reached out to Barra, lamely claiming he writes “lots of emails”.
But Agnelli family scion John Elkann, whose family company Exor still effectively controls FCA, did. And that’s not all: “It was not the only email, it was not the only conversation,” Elkann told reporters. If anyone doubted the company founded in 1899 by his great-great-grandfather was in play, Elkann spelt it out: “Exor and my family... will not be an impediment to a good transaction for FCA.”
To no one’s surprise, Mary Barra said thanks but no thanks. Even if a merger with FCA made sense for GM – which it doesn’t – plenty of people at GM still remember it was Marchionne who 10 years ago strong-armed GM into handing over $US2 billion to avoid having to buy Fiat.
Marchionne’s 2009 marriage of Fiat and Chrysler was a masterstroke. There was an inescapable logic to putting Fiat and Chrysler together: Fiat was stronger in all the places Chrysler was weakest – small cars and commercial vehicles, diesels, Europe and South America – while Chrysler offered expertise in SUVs, large cars and minivans, pick-up trucks, and an extensive dealer base throughout North America.
FCA made a lot of sense on paper. In reality, though, many of the vehicles it sells in key segments are uncompetitive, and others need significant investment in new platforms or powertrains. Bright spots are few: There’s Jeep, which sold a record one million vehicles globally last year, and Ferrari, one of the world’s most cleverly managed luxury brands.
Fiat, once one of Europe’s most innovative small-car manufacturers, is now almost totally reliant on the cute (but not wonderful to drive) 500 and variants such as the 500L and 500X. The Punto doesn’t even make the top 10 in Europe’s B-segment heartland. And FCA’s top-selling C-segment car in Europe is the Alfa Giulietta; it ranks at number 18, well behind Volkwagen’s all-conquering Golf.
In the United States the Ram pick-up does profitable business, but remains the perennial number three in the segment behind the Ford F-150 and Chevy Silverado. Dodge’s Charger and Challenger are based on a mid-90s platform handed down from Mercedes-Benz. Dodge and Chrysler’s small and mid-size cars – Dart and 200 – look great, but feel half-baked, with poorly calibrated transmissions, lacklustre engines and so-so suspensions.
Marchionne is betting big on Maserati and Alfa, but the new Ghibli sells in tiny numbers compared with Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Audi or even Jaguar rivals. Indecision over strategy means the forthcoming 5 Series-size, rear-drive Alfa sedan that’s supposed to anchor the brand’s relaunch in the lucrative US market may now be too little, too late.
When dealing with GM in 2005, Marchionne held a bunch of aces. In 2015, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is looking more like a house of cards.
ONLY a handful of production cars have 520kW-plus engines.
Most of them – La Ferrari, McLaren P1, Porsche 918, Ferrari F12 – cost six or seven fi gures, but just $US61,000 ($A80,000) buys you Dodge’s 527kW Challenger Hellcat.
Not surprisingly, the Challenger Hellcat – and the four-door Charger Hellcat – are selling like hotcakes.
US dealers have had to stop taking orders to let the factory catch up.
But when you’re on a good thing… Yep, rumour has it that a Jeep Grand Cherokee Hellcat is coming.