GENEVA -- Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne, who describes himself as an “Apple freak,” is keen to partner with the technology giant on building a car.
Given the complexity of auto manufacturing, Apple Inc. would be better served working with an established manufacturer than trying to build a car on its own, and FCA would be well-suited, according to Marchionne, who says he owns every kind of product Apple makes.
“I would assume that we have the credibility to be one of the players they have looked at,” Marchionne said at the Geneva auto show. “There are parts of us that would be interesting for them.”
He also said of Apple: "If they have any urges to make a car, I'd advise them to lie down and wait until the feeling passes. Illnesses like this come and go, you will recover from them, they're not lethal."
A source told Reuters last year that Apple was exploring how to make an entire vehicle, not just designing automotive software or individual components.
Helping a competitor get off the ground may seem an usual move, but it reflects Marchionne’s belief that the auto industry wastes capital and needs to change. His latest push for consolidation has been rebuffed by counterparts, and Marchionne has shifted focus to eliminating Fiat’s debt and boosting profit. A partnership with Apple, or Alphabet Inc.’s Google, could help that.
While Google has been testing driverless vehicles, Apple has been exploring the development of a car and pushing a team to begin production of an electric vehicle as early as 2020, people familiar with the effort have said. Marchionne says he understands Apple’s “syntax” and is ready work on their terms, putting Fiat Chrysler in better position than rivals.
“Apple has a language, and you have to be able to speak that language,” said Marchionne. “Usually the industry comes into that dialogue with a high degree of arrogance as we know how to make cars. That’s not very helpful as their syntax is worth more than our ability to build cars.”
No merger talks
Meanwhile, Marchionne on Tuesday reiterated that FCA is not in tie-up talks with anyone at present, including PSA/Peugeot-Citroen, and a potential partner would need to have the same multi-brand strategy as FCA for a merger to work.
FCA shares got a lift last week after PSA said it was open to strategic opportunities in the auto sector, sparking speculation the two companies could enter merger discussions, but Marchionne said there were no talks with PSA.
Speaking on the sidelines of the Geneva show, Marchionne added that since the failure of his bid to tie-up with U.S. automaker General Motors, FCA had decided to carry on solo and was certain of reaching its ambitious targets for the years to 2018 even without a partner.
In January, FCA raised the financial targets of its five-year turnaround plan following a better-than-expected performance in North America and Europe and strong sales of its Jeep SUVs, but some analysts wondered whether the indebted carmaker would be able to execute it on its own.
Marchionne later said that GM, Volkswagen and to some extent Renault-Nissan had a similar strategy to FCA, while it was difficult to imagine how a combination with Ford could work given its one-brand focus.
"When it comes to consolidation, we have always focused our efforts on companies that have the same DNA...you cannot merge with someone that does not understand you," Marchionne said.
"Volkswagen, GM are companies that understand this reality well, they continue to be points of reference ... and to some extent Renault-Nissan ... they have experience of multi-brands," he said. "It's difficult to imagine other alliances."
Marchionne said FCA had been approached by other automakers but the options were not sufficiently attractive.
Marchionne also said that while he believed the U.S. market had peaked, he expected industry-wide car sales in Europe to grow 3 percent this year.
Among several products FCA launched in Geneva was Maserati's long-awaited Levante SUV, meant to reverse a fall in sales the luxury brand had suffered in recent quarters.
The vehicle, whose price starts at around 72,000 euros ($78,156) in Italy, will go on sale in Europe in May, in July in Asia and in September in North America.
Asked about whether some follow-up products for the brand would be delayed as is the case with sister-brand Alfa Romeo, Marchionne said there was no decision on the matter yet.
The CEO said the sales start of the Alfa Romeo Giulia sedan had been delayed given technical issues, but would kick-off soon.
Marchionne did not confirm an earlier promise of bringing all workers in Italy that are currently on temporary layoffs back to work by 2018, but said the company would "do its best."
He added discussions were ongoing to find a contract manufacturer to build its small and midsize cars in the U.S., but declined comment on a possible timeframe.
Bloomberg and Reuters contributed to this report.