Irked Marchionne swaps jibes with VW's Piech

Paul McVeigh is managing editor at Automotive News EuropePaul McVeigh is managing editor at Automotive News Europe
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A war of words between two giants in the European auto industry -- Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne and Volkswagen Chairman Ferdinand Piech -- shows no signs of easing off.

Marchionne stoked the fire by saying at the Detroit auto show that Fiat might be interested in buying VW's stakes in truck makers MAN and Scania to complement the Italian automaker's Iveco truck unit.

When asked by German journalists if this was a joke, he replied: "It's just as much a joke as his [Piech's] attempt to buy Alfa." He was also irked when he saw a German reporter writing on a VW notepad.

Joke or not, Marchionne's comment sent MAN and Scania shares soaring for a short time.

A miffed Piech hit back. "A company whose car sales are shrinking shouldn't be trying to get their hands on Europe's best truck brands," he told the Financial Times Deutschland last week. Fiat Group's European sales fell by 17 percent last year.

Marchionne's jibe at Volkswagen reflects a growing confidence as his plans to turn around Chrysler and force unions to agree to improve productivity in Fiat's money-losing Italian factories begin to bear fruit.

Piech's confidence is also high as VW's global sales boom and its ambitious goal to become the world's top automaker is no longer being treated as a joke in the industry.

Marchionne says he hasn't spoken with Piech, or VW CEO Martin Winterkorn, about the two automakers buying parts of each other's empires, but he says the topic may come up over a coffee in the next 12 months.

Stay tuned for the next installment.

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