GOLDING’S TAKE: Marchionne’s panto turn
Fixing Fiat isn't work enough for Sergio Marchionne. He needs to fight the misguided Brussels politicians and confront the evil ambition of Europe's other carmakers too. Faced with a microphone and an audience of highly trained interrogators, he is spurred into reviewing all these complex plots one after the other, writes Rob Golding.
His dramatic presentation is a bit like that of the pantomime dame who furtively takes the audience through a description of the dangers, while reassuring the children and those easily frightened, that all will be well in the end. His theatre yesterday (Tuesday, July 24) was the reveal of Fiat's half-year financial results to the equity analysts
First the good news: the Fiat brand is gathering strength. Grande Punto did well; Bravo is doing well, and judging by the Press reaction and the early order bank of 57,000 cars against a production capacity of 120,000 - the revived Cinquecento microcar is going to do extremely well. More good news is that the rascally Maserati for the first time in 14 years, did well.
There is a significant order book for the Gran (sic) Turismo. About 7,000 will sell this year. It made a profit in the second quarter of the year. If the plot follows the cunning plan, Maserati will build on that and end the year as a new member of the profitable car club.
Lancia will do well. Considering that there were effectively only two models (Ypsilon and Musa) doing all the heavy lifting, it should be easy to fix the brand when the new product roll-out starts. "We can get 300,000 units off Lancia. We have seen phenomenal resilience in those two models. Leveraging off Fiat will be easy."
Alfa however, is a bit of a booby. There's a surprise, girls and boys. "Alfa is an issue…we have done it too slowly…it will have my personal attention…it needs to be repositioned…it needs to be more disciplined and we need to see an impact within 18 months."
What he is telling us is that Alfa needs to be more of its own brand and needs to have its own strong image and cachet, or as he puts it colourfully - "technically, Alfa has its own calibre and depth."
He also reckons that Alfa will have to go back to the US although there is no way that it is ready for that. Because of the dollar weakness he will have to "follow BMW and Mercedes and find a local production solution."
"It is too large a market to ignore but it will take at least four years before we can break in."
Then came the questions on emission compliance being laid down on the European carmakers by the politicians of Brussels. The grand dame has two heads on this one. Marchionne is head of a car company which has and will continue to have the most economical footprint in Europe. The other Marchionne is the president of ACEA - the European carmakers club.
First for ACEA: "130g/km by 2012 is not achievable."
"We can get it by 2015 but there must be burden allocation. Road builders and the fuel industry in particular must share the cost."
And then for Fiat, he is quite certain that the rich brands making luxury cars will never be able to ride on the backs of the small guys by averaging their emissions across Europe. "I feel almost no sympathy (with the group of car-makers he likes to describe as The Teutonics). It is no use looking at the small guy and asking him to pay their bill. Fiat can't and Fiat won't."
Sharp intake of breath; the suggestion of a hiss from the Teutonics in the expensive seats; Marchionne pulls the dark cape more firmly round him and strides from the stage. The lights go down.
See also: ITALY: Fiat posts record profit