Sergio Marchionne is not what the industry calls a ‘car guy’ – that is, someone who is not a spreadsheet jockey but has an instinct for commissioning great products that catch the public mood.
In the current circumstances, that’s probably a good thing. Fiat Group boss Marchionne, who has a background as a lawyer, has already pulled off the hugely impressive stunt of buying up the ailing Chrysler in the immediate aftermath of the credit crunch.
He swept in to take 20 per cent of Chrysler in January 2009, only a few months after the collapse of Lehman Brothers that marked the start of the global crisis. You have to call that both brave and perceptive.
Chrysler’s currently booming sales mean it made £278 million profit in the second quarter of 2012 and its 582,000 sales mean that it is on course to hit the production levels it enjoyed at the turn of the century. And with Fiat holding 58 per cent of Chrysler, that is money in the Italians' bank.
Most industry bosses would be pretty chuffed at the outcome and would be recycling those profits into much-need new Fiat Group models. Not, it seems, Marchionne. Yesterday, Fiat issued a statement that it would not be giving details on future investment plans until October because of the plunging car sales and the ongoing debt crisis in the eurozone.
Apparently, the new Maserati Quattroporte is in the pre-production phase and Ferrari’s Modena plant is preparing to start work on the Alfa 4C mid-engined sports car. But, analysts noted, there was no mention of the future Alfa Romeo SUV and Giulia. Marchionne has already put the new Fiat Punto on ice.
"Any investment we make in the Punto will never, ever return capital, so we sit on the sideline until we find better conditions," Marchionne was quoted as saying.
Marchionne is being very hard-headed, but, with his instincts, I am somewhat concerned by what he thinks might happen over the next few weeks. Much of Europe goes on holiday during August. Does Marchionne fear that the endgame of the eurozone crisis – which could cause a more serious recession than we suffered after the credit crunch – will finally be triggered while the politicians and Eurocrats are on the beach?
The idea of Marchionne calling a halt to the majority of his company’s new model activities and sitting quietly until the beginning of October is, to my mind, a bad omen.