GOLDING’S TAKE: Marchionne tells rival car makers to behave
Sergio Marchionne was in ebullient form when he hosted the telephone conference call to explain the Fiat/Chrysler financial results announced yesterday (1 February).
Despite car market volumes sliding all over the place, the money numbers had been pretty good; less good were the circumstances beyond his control.
Marchionne is a total delight for journalists. There is nothing he won’t have a go at with one recurring exception: he won’t publicly rubbish the Italian unions though his reluctance to do so carries its own very clear message.
The pertinent question came from an Italian journalist: “The new labour agreement in Italy; does it solve or mitigate the labour situation?”
There was a choking noise at the other end of the line; then a moment when it seemed touch and go as to whether Fiat’s chairman was going to erupt; then the calm rebuke: did the questioner really expect him to toss his lighted cigarette into a pyre of hard-won working practice concessions?
Anyone nostalgic for the bad old days of workplace confrontational practices should check out the January truck strike in Italy which shut five Fiat factories.
Europe is so crowded with carmakers churning out vehicles than the market cannot possibly absorb that Marchionne felt it was worthwhile spending time on rebukes for his competitors.
He has a proper plan, he tells all those prepared to listen. He has worked out that survival requires his brands to command a global market of 6m cars.
But on current trends, he is heading for no more than 4.9m in 2014 according to the consensus of stock analysts covering Fiat. Slowing European markets will make sure of that.
He concedes that in Europe there is a “degradation of pricing discipline”.
“This is a market that is looking for equilibrium in demand and supply. It’s not pretty and it’s not painless.”
So painful is it in fact that he is refusing to get involved in pushing cars out - even for the marginal contribution benefit.
He points a finger at Volkswagen as a principal offender in the disorderly marketing stakes. In French registrations, VW can be seen to be up 23% in a market down 20%. It could of course be that VW is selling cars that people want to buy. But Marchionne is clearly not a fan of that proposition.
One theme that seems to emerge routinely is that Fiat will sell assets to reinforce its position in the volume markets. Why would it not sell Ferrari (and Maserati) to create a cash cushion for Fiat, Chrysler, Jeep, Alfa and Lancia? That is batted straight out of the debate. And why does he not accept Italian Department of Energy loans?
“I like funding and I like equity capital. We do share the same objectives as the DoE. I would be interested in a deal if it does not put us in a straight-jacket. I do intend to go on talking….”
Talking on the minutiae is not really what he needs though. Nothing less than capacity reduction will make him a happy man.