Did it slip out as a random thought? Or did Sergio Marchionne deliberately use Fiat’s first quarter conference call to fly a kite?

We may never know. But what we do now know is that the Italian American thinks that there should be a third member of the Fiat-Chrysler alliance.

The questioner was direct: “Does Chrysler Fiat need another partner?”

Marchionne jumped on it: “Our position in Asia is marginal…a position in Asia would be beneficial.”

Then he softened the impact of that: “I am not talking….not trying to sell you something…I’m just saying.” Subsequently he said that the group needed a stronger capital base. “We need capital; it is on the agenda; we look at it strategically every day.”

The discussion then got wider and Marchionne, who is the current chairman of EAMA, the European Automobile Manufacturers Association, was off at a gallop on his favourite hobby horse.

“This business is in transition in Europe. You do not need a PhD to know that where there is a structural mismatch something has to happen.

“But it is like waiting for a train here. No-one wants to be the first to get on it. In the restructuring of the European motor industry there is a strategic disadvantage for the first mover.” 

Someone has to pay the piper, he says, but “it will not be us. We will watch from the side-lines. We are not happy with Panda pricing and we are not happy in general across the mass market.

“We want a framework in Europe that adjusts supply to demand. We must at least organise a rational response across Europe.”

Marchionne groups together what he dubs ‘the Club Med producers’ – France, Italy, Spain. They are most at risk he says (speaking as one of them) because of their exposure to A,B and C segments, the small cars. It is generally assumed that no-one makes money in that space. 

“We have to measure Fiat’s position very carefully. We do not want to regret our decisions.”