Marchionne says Chrysler will be profitable by 2011

The buzz around Chrysler has been very negative, so it’s rather surprising to here CEO Sergio Marchionne express such confidence about the prospects for the company.

After a four-month deep dive into the workings of Chrysler Group LLC, Chief Executive Sergio Marchionne remains convinced the automaker can be profitable in two years.

The Auburn Hills automaker is on track to divulge its five-year plan on Nov. 4, to make public its quarterly financial statements next year and to offer public stock as early as 2011, he said.

A recent report by analyst Adam Jonas of Morgan Stanley supports Marchionne’s forecast. Jonas said Chrysler could report an operating profit of $841 million in 2010, but end the year with a net loss of $169 million. Full profitability is expected in 2011: $2.48 billion in operating profit and $952 million in net income, Jonas said.

In an interview with Toronto’s Globe and Mail, Marchionne affirmed Thursday that the automaker could reach profitability in 24 months. Just a week before, the CEO contended that “we’re not bleeding as people think we are,” noting that “the level of cost consciousness at this house is probably at a historical high.”

Some had been speculating that Chrysler might not make it another year given its challenges in the market. Marchionne had fueled some of the negative speculation when he said in September that the situation at Chrysler was “worse than we thought.”

Marchionne has an incredible track record as a turnaround specialist, but Chrysler will present the ultimate challenge. The acquisition could be a stroke of genius, as Fiat paid nothing and now owns 20% of the company with full control in exchange for the contribution of small-car technology. Fiat dominates with small cars and this offer it the opportunity to return to America. They also have Alfa Romeo which presents an upscale brand.

That said, it was reported recently that there would be a new push to turn Chrysler into an upscale brand positioned a notch above Lincoln and Cadillac. As noted by many analysts, that seems like a real stretch. Chrysler is a mess, so now consumers are supposed to start paying a premium for their cars?

In any event, it’s refreshing to hear some optimism coming from Marchionne. Hopefully he can back it up.

  

Chrysler begins its Fiat education . . . in Poland

Now that it has emerged from bankruptcy with the help of the American taxpayer, Chrysler needs to make small cars efficiently to survive. Fiat will be a huge help with its contribution of small-engine technology, but it looks like Chrysler can learn efficient production techniques from Fiat’s factory in Tychy, Poland.

The mammoth Fiat plant here, which churned out nearly half a million cars last year, may hold some of the answers for Chrysler (as well as Ford Motor and General Motors), as it struggles to regain its footing after its bankruptcy and reduce its dependence on muscle-bound trucks and sport utility vehicles.

For those who remember Fiat before its ignominious retreat from the American market — the name was said to stand for “Fix It Again, Tony” — the Italian automaker may seem an unlikely role model. It left the United States in the early 1980s after widespread quality problems.

But Fiat itself has undergone a revolution under Sergio Marchionne, who became its chief executive in 2004, raising standards for quality and reliability at plants like Tychy and mastering the art of building smaller cars with high efficiency. Chrysler hopes he can do the same thing for it now that he has assumed control of the American company.

“We are lucky there is a crisis,” said the director of the Tychy plant, Zdzislaw Arlet, unable to resist a gibe at the bigger cars and trucks that have traditionally stolen the industry spotlight. “Everybody wants to build small cars now.”

At Tychy (pronounced TICK-ee), one secret is flexibility: The latest robotic technology is balanced by workers who can quickly shift models to match demand. That is one reason Tychy is operating around the clock, six days a week, while most other auto plants in Europe and the United States are running at a fraction of capacity, increasing costly nonproductive downtime.

Marchionne has proven that he’s a great car guy, and there’s reason to be optimistic about his ability to transform Chrysler. With this visit the process has begun.

  

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