Watch out! Here comes another empire builder

Sometimes it's smart to pay attention to history.

Alexander didn't when he marched out of Macedonia. Napoleon didn't learn from Alexander's mistake. Neither did Hitler.

History teaches that it's easier to build an empire through conquest than it is to manage and sustain it. Ask the Romans or the Monguls or the Moors or the Spanish or the English.

This lesson applies to the auto business, too.

Sergio Marchionne has a grand auto alliance plan that would generate a critical mass of 6 million annual sales.

That might sound reasonable to a number cruncher, but assimilating GM's European operations in addition to Chrysler -- even without Saab and Chevy -- still means overseeing at least eight brands.

That's a lot of mouths to feed with product development capital. It's also a lot of feet to keep from stepping on each other's toes.

Empire building didn't work out for Jacques Nasser at Ford or Jack Smith at General Motors or Juergen Schrempp at Daimler.

Has Marchionne learned from their mistakes?

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