NICK BUNKLEY

Dutch gambit clouds Chrysler pedigree further

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Nick Bunkley is an enterprise reporter for Automotive News.
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There's a saying in western Michigan, where I grew up: "If you're not Dutch, with a tax domicile in Great Britain, you're not much."

It's something like that, anyway.

Last week was big for the venerable Dutch auto industry.

Chrysler, the once undeniably American company that suffered through a decade-long marriage to a German, then had a taxpayer-supported shotgun wedding with an Italian, is settling down in the Netherlands.

It's now part of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, a Dutch holding company with a tax domicile in Great Britain and stock listed in New York.

FCA will soon introduce its newest vehicles, the Dutch Durango and Fiat Vijfhonderd. A hastily assembled Super Bowl commercial kicked off a new advertising campaign: "Imported from Utrecht."

Actually, that's not true. Little will visibly change from all this.

Chrysler will keep its headquarters in Michigan. Fiat still will be based in Italy. CEO Sergio Marchionne, an Italian-Canadian, will still wear black sweaters and feud with his German archrival, Volkswagen Chairman Ferdinand Piech.

But it raises a few questions: What nationality is Chrysler now? Is it Dutch? Italian? Italian-American?

Another: Is there still a Detroit 3? Or is Motown down — as some argued in the DaimlerChrysler era — to just two?

The answers might seem trivial. But they do matter in terms of pride. They affect how Automotive News and other media outlets describe Chrysler. They matter to many Americans who feel their tax money was used to save a foreign company.

This is an industry that debates whether a Toyota Camry should be considered Japanese because that's where the company that builds it is based, even though it's assembled in Kentucky and has less foreign content than every vehicle sold in the United States except the Ford F-150, according to the 2013 Cars.com American-Made index.

Meanwhile, the top-selling "American" car, the Ford Fusion, is made mostly in Mexico.

There are few clear answers anymore, and Chrysler just made things even more confusing.

You can reach Nick Bunkley at nbunkley@crain.com. -- Follow Nick on Twitter

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