TURIN, Italy -- If someone had told me that Chrysler would rescue Fiat within two years of their tie-up, I would have said, "Smettila di bere prima di pranzo" -- stop drinking before lunchtime.
What has happened since 2009, when Fiat took control of Chrysler? Actually, Chrysler is only marginally ahead of what CEO Sergio Marchionne expected in his original restructuring plan. The main problems are here in Europe: aging Fiat vehicles, Europe's faltering economy, and the sovereign debt and euro crises.
Sales in Italy this year are spiraling down to a 15-year low. Fiat's Alfa Romeo, Fiat and Lancia brands compound the market's weakness with aging products. Fiat sales and market share will continue to erode.
A Nov. 3 headline in the Italian daily Libero Quotidiano summed up the view here of Fiat's and Chrysler's sales: "Fiat on the hand-brake in Italy, but Chrysler applies the turbo."
A decade ago, an Italian market sinking 11 percent to just 1.75 million units, as forecast for this year, would have been the kiss of death for Fiat. But now that Fiat owns Chrysler, car sales (excluding light trucks) in Italy account for just 10 percent of Fiat's global revenues.
Chrysler accounted for 53 percent of parent Fiat's third-quarter revenues. Brazil is also a strong market and a huge profit generator for Fiat.
In the third quarter, Fiat tripled its operating profit to 851 million euros, or about $1.15 billion, and Chrysler provided two-thirds of the total.