AUTOMOTIVE NEWS EUROPE CONGRESS -- TURIN

Marchionne: Success bring risks

Fiat CEO believes that a carmaker has to become a global player or go away

To keep his team motivated and focused Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne has set tough financial and sales goals. Photo credit: PHILIP MEECH
Fiat’s successful restructuring over the past four years saved the automaker from extinction, CEO Sergio Marchionne said.

But the widespread praise Fiat has earned for its turnaround also brought risks of overconfidence, he said.

Last month, the influential Economist business magazine wrote that Fiat’s “remarkable industrial and financial turnaround” is likely to be studied in business schools for years.

Marchionne said such praise is flattering but it also worries Fiat’s leadership team.

“We all know how fleeting these achievements can be in markets that have historically gone from boom to bust, where fortunes can be reversed in a matter of months,” Marchionne said.

The CEO outlined Fiat’s successes since he unveiled his revival plan for the automaker in November 2004.

ß Last year, Fiat group had a record trading profit of €3.2 billion.

ß Fiat is now free of debt after generating €10 billion in cash in the past three years.

ß Last year, Fiat sold 2.234 million vehicles, its highest unit sales since 2000.

ß Maserati was profitable in 2007, its first profitable year since Fiat bought it in 1993.

ß Ferrari reported record revenues and profit in 2007.

“We have continued on this path this year with the best first-quarter results in the group’s 109-year history,” Marchionne said.

Fiat has now entered a new phase of global expansion in markets such as China, India, Russia and Latin America. It also plans to relaunch its Alfa Romeo brand and is considering bringing its 500 minicar in the US.

“We are fully aware of the risks but equally aware that a refusal to engage [globally] would lead to its extinction,” Marchionne said.

Marchionne said he expects Fiat and its joint ventures to sell 3.5 million units in 2010. The group’s unit sales last year were less than 2.3 million.

Marchionne’s 2004 revival plan set a target of achieving group revenues of €70 billion and a trading profit of more than €5 billion in 2010, a 100-fold increase compared with its 2004 results.

You can reach Luca Ciferri at lciferri@crain.com

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