Chrysler worse off than previously thought

2009 Dodge Challenger 3

I’m not sure I’m buying this. The article cited here goes on to speculate that Sergio Marchionne is setting things up to make more drastic changes.

The situation at recently rescued Chrysler Group is even more dire than first thought, the CEO of Italy’s Fiat — which came to the aid of the U.S. automaker — said Wednesday.

“We were surprised by how little had been done in the past 24 months,” Sergio Marchionne told reporters in Frankfurt, Germany.

Chrysler will present a revised business plan in November, Marchionne told reporters.

“We have to be absolutely clear about what we want to do with Chrysler and, as a management team, where the organization is going to be in five years,” Marchionne said, according to the industry newspaper Automotive News.

Unlike General Motors, which has continued to roll out new and redesigned products even as it entered and exited bankruptcy, Chrysler has had little to tout. Its most recent new market entries are the Dodge Challenger muscle car — essentially a re-bodied Dodge Charger sedan — and the Ram pick-up.

The only new product Chrysler has entering the market this year is an industrial-duty version of the Ram truck. After that, a new version of the Jeep Grand Cherokee mid-sized SUV isn’t expected until the middle of next year.

The economy is very important. If car sales can continue to rebound, then the margin for error is greater for Fiat.


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.


Fiat expanding into China with joint venture


Fiat’s Sergio Marchionne said he needed scale to compete, and now he’s plowing forward in China.

The Fiat Group announced a 50-50 joint venture on Monday with the Guangzhou Automobile Group to make cars and engines for the Chinese market, the latest move by the Italian automaker to expand outside its home market.

The companies said they would build a 173-acre plant in Changsha, in Hunan province, at a cost of more than $556 million, with production to begin by late 2011.

Upon completion of the first phase of development, the venture will have the capacity to make 140,000 cars and 220,000 engines a year.

The companies said capacity at the plant, which will make fuel-efficient, low-emission vehicles, could eventually be increased to 250,000 cars and 300,000 engines a year.

Sergio Marchionne, Fiat’s chief executive, has described the world’s carmakers as being in a struggle for survival, with only those of sufficient scale and efficiency capable of riding out the crisis. Fiat, which had revenue last year of $83 billion, acquired a controlling 20 percent stake in Chrysler Group LLC in June to gain access to the North American market.

The Guangzhou Automobile Group, a state-owned holding company, had 2008 revenue of $16 billion.

The company, which has joint ventures with major partners including Honda Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Corp., said it delivered more than 530,000 cars to customers last year.

Fiat has been looking for a new Chinese partner since it terminated a venture with Nanjing Auto in late 2007. A planned joint venture with Chery Automobile, China’s largest domestic carmaker, was to start production this year, but the project was put on indefinite hold in March.

Marchionne also said that Fiat is still interested in Opel as well.


Fiat will take stake in Chrysler


Fiat might be throwing Chrysler a lifeline.

Fiat SpA and Chrysler LLC on Tuesday confirmed the Italian auto maker will take at least a 35% stake in Chrysler as part of a deal to share technology and bring small cars developed by Fiat to the U.S.

The move is an attempt to revive two of the world’s storied auto makers and is likely to eventually give Fiat control of Chrysler’s operations, people familiar with the matter said. Under terms of the deal, Fiat has the option of increasing that to as much as 55%, these people said.

Fiat, the stronger of the two car makers, wouldn’t immediately put cash into Chrysler. Instead, it would obtain its stake mainly in exchange for covering the cost of retooling a Chrysler plant to produce one or more Fiat models to be sold in the U.S., these people said. Fiat would also provide engine and transmission technology to help Chrysler introduce new, fuel-efficient small cars.

The deal is the latest maneuver by Fiat’s chief, Sergio Marchionne, who has pulled the Italian company back from the brink collapse since taking over in 2004.

This might be a great combination. We’ll see how it plays out.


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