Autocar's Steve Cropley caught up with Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne at the Detroit motor show to discuss the future of Alfa Romeo, his hopes for 2010 and whether he plans on committing to selling cars in the UK long term.
Is it true you’ve delayed the launch of Alfa Romeo in the US?
Alfa has been underperforming for a long time. It has been the most difficult part of Fiat’s recovery, even though on paper it looks so attractive. The marque isn’t for sale, or anything like that. It’s our problem. But we do have to rethink our objectives and be realistic with ourselves before we we do anything else.
Does that mean the US plans are off?
No, they’re being worked on diligently. But I want to see us achieve two things before we proceed. First, I want to see how well we do launching the Giulietta. From the technical point of view it’s a huge step forward, but I want to see how it fares. And I want to see how we can take advantage of that through the company. It’ll take about a year to make that assessment.
You showed a Lancia Delta with Chrysler badges and a Chrysler grille. Is that a real project?
The rebadged Delta could quite possibly make a Chrysler vehicle. Not far from now we may see an even stronger convergence of the two marques. In Europe, Lancia is an undersized, underdeveloped brand, with nothing bigger than the Delta. Chrysler, which has a true global reach, has nothing smaller. Put them together and you have a full lineup.
Doesn’t that damage the Delta?
Let’s get this straight. I’m not selling any Lancia in the US. There’s no structural conflict. We could have designed that car here. We could see the two converge as early as the end of the year.
What will the relationship between Dodge and Alfa Romeo be like?
That’s very different. These are two distinctive brands. Dodge is an American brand and must stay that way. Where the two have similarities is through their reputations for great dynamics. They might co-operate, but they’ll stay separate.
Why didn’t you have a big press conference in Detroit?
Because we don’t have anything to show yet. There’s been a habit at Chrysler of showing stuff very early. But if I’m going to battle, I don’t want to threaten my enemy with a weapon I won’t have for 18 months.
What do you expect from 2010?
In Europe, the market will be a million lower than 2009, but I still think it’s on the way back now. Chrysler will have a tough year, because we’re waiting for a lot of new products. In 2011 we’’ll have 11 new vehicles and five that have been heavily refreshed. This year, we’re shooting for 1.1 million sales in the US and about 1.6-1.7 milion in total, and not worrying much about market share. Those numbers are where we can more or less break even. But we’ve just come out of bankruptcy; we need to have a little humility.
Are you sorry your move to acquire Opel didn’t come off?
Personally I am. But I do think Opel finished up in the right hands, though I don’t think the journey it took to get there was very helpful. But General Motors has the industrial muscle needed to make Opel work. The proposal wasn’t right. There was no future the way it was proposed. Ask any CEO of a big European company and he’ll tell you the same.
The UK currency has fallen in value. Is it hard selling cars there?
It’s tough for any manufacturer to make money in the UK at present. Sometimes I wake up and ask myself why I’m there at all, apart from the fact that I love the place. But an emotional attachment only goes so far…