By on July 25, 2018

With his passing, the auto industry returns to being a sea of suits. Sergio Marchionne, the outspoken, sweater-wearing former CEO of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and newly spun-off Ferrari, has died following complications from a recent surgery. The Italian-Canadian industry titan was 66.

Marchionne had been expected to retire from FCA in the spring of 2019, but his rapidly failing health saw the boards of FCA and Ferrari assemble on Saturday to choose successors and issue notes of condolences. Jeep and Ram brand boss Mike Manley took  the helm of FCA by day’s end. Late Tuesday, an Italian newspaper claimed Marchionne suffered an embolism following a high-risk cancer surgery, falling into a unrecoverable coma.

How does one remember such a colorful figure? With cars and quips.

When Marchionne announced the return of the Alfa Romeo brand to the United States at the 2013 Detroit auto show, he asserted that the future lineup needed a “wop engine.”

Thus began a steady stream of brutally honest pronouncements. When FCA grudgingly launched its first all-electric vehicle, the Fiat 500e, a grumpy Marchionne famously stated, “If you are considering buying a 500e, I hope you don’t buy it.” The automaker, forced into fielding a cobbled-together EV to satisfy California emissions laws, lost $14,000 on the sale of every 500e.

Sergio, as we all referred to him, was a refreshing, enlivening presence in a frequently dull, carefully scripted industry. But his achievements loom as large as his persona.

Joining the board of Fiat in 2003, Marchionne took the helm of the ailing Italian company the following year, nursing it back to profitability. He then turned his sights on a bankrupt Chrysler, left wallowing in the midst of a recession after Daimler AG lost interest and new owner Cerberus Capital Management failed to act like Chrysler was a car company. Fiat’s stake grew, from 20 percent in 2009 to 58.5 percent a few years later. In 2014, the company bought up the remaining shares, creating FCA.

Without Fiat — and Marchionne’s — interest, the U.S. and Canadian governments wouldn’t have been so quick to offer financial assistance during those dark times.

“I believe that the best way to honor his memory is to build on the legacy he left us, continuing to develop the human values of responsibility and openness of which he was the most ardent champion,” said John Elkann, chairman of investment firm (and largest FCA stakeholder) Exon, in a statement.

Under Marchionne’s guidance, Jeep grew from a quirky off-road-focused brand to a global juggernaut. Ferrari became an independent division with an IPO. Dodge lifted the horsepower of its Charger and Challenger into the stratosphere. Maserati returned to prominence, Alfa Romeo returned to North America, and small, domestic cars vanished from the automaker’s portfolio — an acknowledgement that crossovers are now king. Ram, once a line of Dodge trucks, is now positioned as a key global brand.

2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon - Image: FCA

Shortly before his June surgery, Marchionne pulled the wraps off the automaker’s next five-year plan. In it, the two brands that make up the company’s name (as well as Dodge) were relegated to the back burner, while Jeep, Ram, Alfa Romeo and Maserati stand ready to take on the world (and make buckets of cash doing it). Yes, it means Chrysler, now a “people-mover” brand, falls further from the public eye, but Marchionne knew where the money was. Well, most of the time.

Failures on his watch were few, but notable. The Chrysler 200 sedan flopped, not unlike the entire Fiat brand in North America, while the launch of the Maserati Levante SUV and 2019 Ram 1500 haven’t been without difficulties (naturally, Marchionne addressed the latter two issues with unvarnished honesty). The 3.0-liter EcoDiesel saga gave FCA an environmental black eye. And, as other automakers scrambled to launch electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids, FCA managed to crank out the plug-in Pacifica and nothing else. Still, those hybrid vans sit at the center of Waymo’s self-driving ride-hailing plan, and FCA scored a lucrative order because of it.

Sergio liked sexy sheetmetal and muscle, but the man wasn’t blind to the potential benefits of emerging technologies. The five-year plan showed it. A full-fledged electrification strategy will see FCA finally get with the times, eliminating one of its largest risks.

During that plan unveiling in Turin, Marchionne spoke of the company in eloquent terms when asked about his successor, then unknown.

“There is no script or instructions. Instructions are institutional and temporary,” he said. “FCA is a culture of leaders and employees that were born out of adversity and who operate without sheet music.”

Having positioned his retirement to coincide with the elimination of FCA’s stubborn, longstanding debt, it’s now looking like Marchionne’s untimely departure from this physical realm comes as his streamlining plan achieved exactly that.

Rest easy, Sergio.

[Images: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles]

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63 Comments on “Sergio Marchionne, Savior of Fiat and Chrysler, Dies At 66...”


  • avatar
    Sub-600

    Too young. R.I.P. Sergio. I’m gonna let my Hemi stretch it’s legs this morning in his honor.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    I read where the operation he had was to stop the cancer they had discovered, but no luck :(

    RIP, Sergio

  • avatar
    nitroxide

    Rest in Peace. There won’t soon be another like him. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and loved ones.

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    Wow, just wow. That was fast. The automotive world needs more Sergios for sure. I am a huge fan of people, while I may not like what they have to say, just tell me the truth. I don’t necessarily agree with all of his decisions, Alpha being a big one, he did a great job at the helm.

    • 0 avatar
      Adam Tonge

      Blood clots are a bitch.

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus

        Yes. We lost my cousin’s husband in 2014 to a blood clot following open heart surgery. That man taught me a lot, his loss still brings sadness.

        I woke up this morning with the song “Broken Halos” playing in my head. Seems very appropriate now.

        • 0 avatar
          Adam Tonge

          In terms of surviving a blood clot, Sergio had a lot of things working against him. His age, history of smoking, diagnosis of cancer, and invasive surgery all played a role. It is unfortunate and sad that this is how his life ends. He should be transitioning to a happy retirement instead of this.

          I had a pulmonary embolism in April. Two blood clots in my left lung. I was admitted to the hospital on a Monday and I was supposed to run a marathon on Saturday. I think that running that marathon would have ended badly for me.

          • 0 avatar
            JohnTaurus

            I’m very happy you pulled through, Adam.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            I’m sorry to hear but am happy you’re well enough to type this to us now.

          • 0 avatar
            Lie2me

            Wow, glad you’re ok

          • 0 avatar
            Adam Tonge

            Thanks for the kind words. I have been doing really well. I am much better off than most people who get a pulmonary embolism. It was diagnosed relatively early and I got treatment. My doctors still don’t know why it happened, but exercise, eating right, and aspirin will probably be the long term medication.

  • avatar
    threeer

    Love him or hate him, he was a force to be reckoned with and will not soon be forgotten. I hope that several thousand engines of all types goose the gas just a little bit more today in his honor.

  • avatar
    Richard Chen

    RIP, Sergio: the car CEO who did the most, given the least resources.

  • avatar
    dusterdude

    RIP, and sympathies to his family. He creativity and intelligence will be missed by the companies he lead, and by the auto industry .

    My first car was a 74 Plymouth duster, and current car I am driving is a 2000 Concorde lxi ( my dad stopped driving last year, so I took it over), so have some Mopar in my blood, although have definitely owned many other brands..

  • avatar
    EquipmentJunkie

    I have been saddened by Sergio Marchionne’s health issues over the last few days. His decisions and accomplishments were not made without intense criticism, but the results cannot be denied. FCA and CNHi are stronger after his leadership.

    I was hoping to some day read a book written by Marchionne, one of the auto industry’s most colorful characters in the past few decades. Like Bob Lutz, Mr. Marchionne had an artfully succinct (not without acidity) way of expressing his thoughts. I was reminded today of his description of the large Jeep Commander as “unfit for human consumption” while dealers still had these large SUVs on the lot to sell.

    A brilliant and talented man taken from us too soon.

  • avatar
    JohnTaurus

    I knew it was coming. Still hurts my heart.

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    Condoglianze a la sua famiglia.

  • avatar
    OzCop

    Indeed, RIP Sir…and thanks for your contribution in reviving Chrysler/Dodge/Ram brands. Hated by some, loved by many, the fear of losing this iconic brand was devastating to those who grew up with Chrysler products. My first car was my grandfather’s 49 Plymouth sedan…As I grew older, my love for all things automotive grew with it, but my memories always returned to that first car.

    Thoughts and prayers for his family…and indeed the FCA industry as a whole…some people are difficult to replace…

  • avatar
    geozinger

    I’ve been following the news for the last couple of days, you knew it was bad when they announced Manley as taking over Sergio’s position.

    I can’t say that I agreed with everything he did, but the world would not have been the same place without him.

    Requiescant in Pacem, Sr. Marchionne.

    • 0 avatar
      snakebit

      I knew it was terribly bad when FCA asked well-wishers last weekend to stop trying to contact his family about his condition. I knew at that point that he wasn’t coming back, and I didn’t mean just to FCA. For those who don’t realize how hard and intelligently he worked to revive FCA, please view the CBS 60 Minutes interview from about 2011 Sergio did with Steve Kroft. It’s on YouTube.

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    Honestly , what FCA’s product line produces ,across all of its brands, at least one vehicle I’d love to own , but the rational part of my brain , always intercedes.My former business partner couldn’t resist, though, as a retirement present he just bought a Giulia.
    I think a 6/70 warranty like VWs would go a long way.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Too soon, just like my 96 Grand Voyager. I loved that car.

  • avatar
    DeadWeight

    It’s too npbad that he died at that age and under those circumstances.

    One thing that bothers me about American (and British) culture is obsessive, popular focus on the happenings (marriages, arrests, giving birth, divorces, major successes, major failures, deaths, and everything in between) of athletes, celebrities, musicians, the Royala (ughh), and now, CEOs, biz titans, tech bros and tech hoes, etc.

    America loves its TMZ.p amd Real Housewives bullish*t.

  • avatar
    slavuta

    Italians nice people. Feel bad for all of them.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    This made me physically sick and again reminds me life is too f***ing short.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Certainly a man who lived the old credo: “A problem is just an opportunity dressed in work clothes.”

    I like that he moved the CEOs office from the penthouse to the middle of the Engineering Department.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    I suppose all I can do is repeat the same good wishes as everyone else and reiterate:

    Life is a gift. Live it.

  • avatar
    Ah_non_e_mouse

    RIP Sergio.

    Honestly can say I would never buy an FCA product but as an enthusiast I’m very glad they’re still around as a company and that people buy them and enjoy them.

  • avatar
    rpol35

    “Sergio, as we all referred to him, was a refreshing, enlivening presence in a frequently dull, carefully scripted industry.”

    +1 You said it!

  • avatar
    210delray

    So sorry to hear of his passing. He did so much for Fiat and Chrysler and will be missed.

  • avatar
    EBFlex

    Many doubted him. All were wrong. The miracle he performed at Chrysler is one the automotive industry has never seen.

    RIP.

  • avatar
    kvndoom

    Damn, that’s terrible news. Hell, we all have to go, but there are better ways!

    I love that he was controversial instead of a “by the book” CEO. Guys like Serge make big business fun to read for us little people.

    Big Trucks, if you’re out there, make sure to throw down some 40’s for the man you made your Hellcat possible.

    In pace, requiescat.

  • avatar
    SixspeedSi

    Very sad indeed. While we may not agree on all of his decisions, there was certainly no head of an Automaker quite like him – and I’ll miss that.

    You cannot fault that he took a company that was in a very bad place and added the good products, great marketing, and an energy that helped fuel sales.

    I remember a story of my local FCA dealer loaning out a fleet of Durango Citadels for Sergio & co to use of a business trip. His, naturally came back reeking of cigar smoke. Can’t say the Sweater didn’t have character.

    Chao for now, Sergio

  • avatar
    slavuta

    I hope he’s got to greet Ronaldo. But you know the fun fact – Fiat workers went on strike for him buying this dude for $100M

  • avatar
    mjg82

    Rest in Peace, good sir. Though I’m largely a Buick guy in adulthood, I was raised Mopar, and you made the company closest to my heart exciting again. You will be missed.

  • avatar
    sutherland555

    The man took two lemons and made the best possible lemonade he could under very difficult circumstances. He will be missed.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      We should remember that without Sergio likely there would be no separate Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram. The US Government seriously considered liquidating the whole company.

      Jeep and (maybe) RAM would possibly exist under someone else’s umbrella.

  • avatar
    Carrera

    Sergio, one of the greats…Rest in peace.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    Wow, I am stunned. I wasn’t a huge fan of his, but I am still saddened. My condolences to his family and friends.

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    there’s a really well written mini-bio over on C&D website by J.Pearley Huffman

  • avatar
    ernest

    He had one helluva run. God Bless and God Speed.

  • avatar
    Carroll Prescott

    Fiat is hardly a failure in the United States because of what Sergio did. That brand had a long and underwhelming reputation for being junk.

    Renault is going to try to come back here? Talk about builders of junk!

    Overall Sergio saved Chrysler after it was forced into bankruptcy to save the UAW money (and to give the investors the shaft); all but $1 billion was repaid to the taxpayers by Sergio (unlike the ghastly $30-40 billion that GM shafted the taxpayers with tax credit theft from the Dead GM and the deficit spending that is used to service the debt and increasing interest payments).

    I’m no FCA lover. I find their cars archaic – but Sergio was a true leader and did his best to save companies that were virtually worthless and made them into less worthless (and more profitable) brands. He will be missed because he was a car guy and the anti-witch Bara from GM who is a clunk headed witch who proves saying you are an engineer doesn’t make you a competent one.

  • avatar

    Steve Rattner was between a rock and a hard place. Had Chrysler gone down into liquidation, it would have taken the supplier base and a number of other OEMs along with them, including GM. If not for that, why not let Chrysler go, leaivng more market for GM and Ford? But Chrysler was a tough nut. Jamie Dimon was being a prick about the money Chrysler owed J.P. Morgan. Finally Rattner decided, if that’s what he wants, I’ll just give him the entire company. Dimon settled immediately. Sergio was a “Hail Mary.” Rattner said, we didn’t have a lot of options, but there was this plain spoken European in a black sweater with a plan. “So we bet on the jockey, not on the horse.”

  • avatar
    Whatnext

    RIP, very sad. Whether you agreed with his decisions or not, nobody could say he didn’t care passionately about the industry and the company.

  • avatar
    FWD Donuts

    Couldn’t sleep last night. Recently bought a WiFi Internet Radio and was setting some stations on the presets. Yeah, yeah, I know there are apps — but I don’t want the stinking smartphone anywhere near my bedroom.

    Had just preset WWJ, a news radio station out of Detroit, when the news first broke. Went over to the Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News as the breaking banners were just going up while WWJ began interviewing local plant workers, getting their great industry reporter Jeff Gilbert on the air, and industry guys like John McElroy on the phone.

    It was fascinating to be at Ground Zero of such a big industry event. And it was incredibly sad.

    He saved 300,000 jobs at FCA alone — and if Chrysler had gone down — hundreds of thousands of more jobs would’ve been lost in the upper Midwest during the depths of the Great Recession.

    Didn’t agree with his funding Alfa with Jeep profits — but an analyst made a good point. Consumers aren’t going to pay top dollar for Chryslers and Dodges which have no hope of becoming global brands — so why not ride them out and fund Jeep, Ram, Maserati, and Alfa Romeo which do?

    Anyway, think I’ll go out and do a massive burnout in the Challenger SRT to bid him farewell. He wasn’t perfect — but did fund cool stuff like the Hellcat, Demon, and a big presence in the NHRA even after the stuffed shirts at Ford and GM largely pulled out.

    Thank you, Sergio, and farewell.

  • avatar
    GeneralMalaise

    Shocked and saddened to read of this. Condolences and prayers go to his family. He marched to a different beat and was always entertaining. I owe him a debt of gratitude for his decision to give Fiat (and Alfa) another shot in the US. I was able to purchase a new Fiat, which is something I never expected to happen again in my lifetime. I’m the proud owner of a 2012 500 Abarth, a car that after 6 years of trouble-free ownership, still brings a smile to my face every time I drive it. RIP, Sergio!

  • avatar
    AJ

    RIP Sergio. I enjoyed his cander and straight talking. My best to his family.


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