LUCA CIFERRI

Marchionne's Italian honeymoon ends

Luca Ciferri is chief correspondent at Automotive News EuropeLuca Ciferri is chief correspondent at Automotive News Europe
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Since he took over an almost bankrupt Fiat, Sergio Marchionne has been perceived in his native Italy in three, very different phases:

1. Who is Marchionne? After emigrating from Italy to Canada with his family when he was 14 and spending his business career in Canada and then Switzerland, Marchionne was largely unknown when he was brought in to rescue a struggling Fiat in 2004.

2. Marchionne the savior: By 2006, Fiat was again in decent financial shape and Italy celebrated him as the savior of a national industrial icon.

3. Marchionne the American: Since Fiat took management control of Chrysler in June 2009, Marchionne has repeatedly clashed with Italian unions and politicians. Critics in Italy now call him "Marchionne the American" in a negative way, because he is accused of putting Chrysler ahead of Fiat and thus of Italy.

The likely appointment of a boss to run the European side of the Fiat-Chrysler alliance looks like an acknowledgment that the clash between Marchionne and Italy has now gone - particularly with one key union - too far and is now too personal to repair.

Nevertheless, saying that Marchionne and Fiat are abandoning Italy is very wrong. Fiat is in the driving seat in the Fiat-Chrysler alliance, with a 53.5 percent stake in the U.S. automaker that is set to increase to 58.5 percent by year-end.

You can reach Luca Ciferri at lciferri@crain.com.

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