Posted by: David Welch on April 20, 2009
It’s ironic enough that Italy’s Fiat Auto could end up being the savior for Chrysler. After all, former Chrysler President Bob Lutz once likened Fiat to a dead bride when his old boss, Lee Iacocca, wanted the company to join up with the Italian carmaker. Now, Lutz is at General Motors until he retires in December, and Fiat may help his current employer.
Yes, the Italian carmaker is reportedly in talks with GM about forming a partnership with its European and South American businesses, says Automotive News. How ironic is that? Well, in 2000, GM bought 20% of Fiat Auto for $2.4 billion. Back then, GM was healthy and Fiat was in serious financial trouble. The Italian company was wracked by quality issues. It was so bad that GM actually paid another $2 billion a few years later just to avoid a put option that would have made GM the sole owner of Fiat. GM’s board didn’t want that kind of headache.
But now, after Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne has fixed the company, he could help save Chrysler in the U.S. and GM in Europe. GM lost $1.5 billion in the Olde World last year, with its Opel and Vauxhaul brands suffering mightily with too many factories. GM is actually doing very well in Latin America, where the auto giant earned $1.3 billion last year. Fiat is pretty strong there, too, so they could make a powerful pair down there. The only catch is that Fiat doesn’t have any cash either. But the alliances will help be getting each company jointly-engineered vehicles and sharing parts.
The bottom line: Fiat is not a great carmaker by any stretch. But Chrysler and GM are in so much trouble that anyone could help at this point. Even Fiat.