Marchionne says he'll likely step aside from Chrysler in 2015 or 2016
Photo credit: Joe Wilssens
TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne today hinted that he will be stepping aside from the helm of the U.S. automaker within five years.
During a question-and-answer session at the 2011 Management Briefing Seminars, the 59-year-old executive said Chrysler's future plans will be "up to the guy after me, I think -- after 2015, hopefully. Maybe a year later. Chrysler will be here after me."
Marchionne currently is CEO of both Chrysler and its controlling shareholder, Fiat S.p.A. Over the last few weeks, he has begun integrating the management teams of the two companies while retaining oversight of North America.
In a meeting with journalists later, Marchionne clarified his succession plan.
"I technically can go beyond 2015," he said. "I wouldn't focus on the date. I would focus on the process."
"The process has been designed and I've always believed that my successor needs to come from the inside... and this enlarged management team where we have 22 people of nine nationalities is designed... to be a proving ground for people to sit and manage."
Speaking earlier this morning during a live radio program, Marchionne also said he expected smooth contract negotiations with the UAW.
Photo credit: Joe Wilssens
"If anybody starts any type of confrontational process, we're going to undo everything," he said.
Dressed in a black golf shirt instead of his trademark sweater, Marchionne said the auto industry has the engineers and suppliers to meet U.S. mileage regulations calling for 54.5 mpg by 2025. He called the challenge "very doable."
Marchionne gave as an example the fuel-economy gains made by the new Chrysler 300 full-size sedan, which has been rated 31 mpg on the highway. He said that though that is a far-cry from an average city and highway rating of 54.5 mpg, the industry still has 14 years to tap current and future technology to reach the standards.
Marchionne said he was optimistic that the industry would hit annual sales in 2011 of 12.7 million units. He said parts suppliers have geared up to meet the volumes after weathering the deep auto recession of two years ago.
On other topics, Marchionne said:
Chrysler will start producing vehicles in China by 2014, presumably in Fiat's own plants. Fiat is building a Chinese assembly plant.
Chrysler expects to sell 2.0 million units this year, and 2.3 million units in 2012. Speculation that the U.S. economy may suffer a double-dip recession is overblown. "We are out of the ditch," he said. "We expect a gradual recovery over the next three to four years."
An initial public offering for Chrysler stock is unlikely in 2012, but an eventual IPO would allow the UAW's retiree health care fund to convert its Chrysler stake into cash.
While electric cars will have a niche in the U.S. market, it would be a mistake to consider EVs as a panacea for higher mpg regulations, he argued. Instead, automakers can adopt a variety of fuel-saving technologies to upgrade gasoline powertrains. "It's like walking into a toy store and having the freedom to buy stuff until 2025," he joked.
Marchionne appeared relaxed and upbeat during his speech to auto executives and his subsequent press conference.
Asked by Detroit radio host Paul W. Smith of WJR-760 AM if President Obama wanted only electric cars on the road, Marchionne said the president "wants our cars to be efficient."
Marchionne said he drives a Dodge Charger SRT8 as his every day ride – "black on black."
The radio host joked, "like your sweater."
Jason Stein contributed to this report.
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