Chrysler and Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne has given Forbes’ Joann Muller what I believe to be one of his best interviews since arriving on the US scene. In it, Sergio dishes on everything from the bailout (“I risked everything – I got 35 percent of something that was worth nothing”), to Chrysler’s 2011 sales target (“a very, very tough uphill battle”), to its new product
I couldn’t have done more from a product standpoint than I’ve done. I mean you know, I tried every trick in the book that I knew and I invented some, but you know, 16 products in 12 months – at least that part of it was a record. The rest of it is to be proven.
But the strangest revelation from Sergio is that Alfa Romeo’s future success will be, in a manner of speaking, “Imported from Detroit.” Read the whole thing over at Forbes, or hit the jump for Sergio’s vision for his red-blooded Italian brand.
Look, I’ve been in this business now – in Fiat — for seven years. Every time I talk to somebody they tell me, you know, Alfa is just a wonderful brand. Well, Alfa’s been a money loser inside Fiat now since I’ve been around. They’re exactly the opposite of what we are institutionally; they over-promise and under-deliver every year. And the problem is it’s a great brand with a long history. I’m not sure if it ever really made any money. Even before Fiat ownership I’m not sure it was a great deal. But it always had this sexy – it raced Formula One — I mean it’s got this incredible appeal which goes back, you know, to the time they used to be on the racetrack, and it’s the embodiment of a lot of things which are typically Italian; sportiness, lightweight, and everything else. And what happened is that when Fiat bought them back in the end of ’86 we Fiatized Alfa. Fiat was front-wheel drive; Alfa was rear wheel drive. So now all the Alfas are front-wheel drive. And we put Fiat engines inside the Alfas, and Alfa started losing more and more of its DNA as a car company.
And of all the things that we had to play with since 2004, you know, I kept saying if I can get to 300,000 vehicles I’ll be happy because it’s a re-launch of the brand. We were selling over 100,000 cars in Europe. We have done two significant things since then; we’ve launched the Mito, which is a B segment car. And then we launched the Julietta, the C segment car last year. These are true Alfas, both of them. I mean they have the right engines, the handling, everything else. The real opportunity for us is to try and take this architectural development that we’ve done in the U.S. with the C-segment Dodge sedan coming out next year and using that basic architecture to develop the next evolution of Alfa Romeo and really turn it into a global brand.
We need Chrysler to get that done because we need to share the cost of development of an architecture with them. So without Chrysler, to be honest, Alfa Romeo would have been a nearly impossible task because the cost…would have been prohibitive. So we had to find a partner to do it with. We could have found it over time but the fact that we had access to Chrysler; it benefited Chrysler tremendously because they could also reduce the cost of the investment, but we needed a guy to do it with and Chrysler is the guy. And so the future is pretty good. Strangely enough, I actually think that Alfa will have, at least initially, will have a better success story in the U.S. than it will in Europe. Simply because – I’ll tell you why, because a lot of people know Alfa here in the U.S. because of “The Graduate.” But there’s a history there which I think we need to go revive, and I think we can come back into Europe and play a much stronger hand in Europe once we have an established U.S. base.