For a Chinese automaker that dreams of making a splash in North America, Europe and Latin America, FCA presents as close to a turnkey operation as exists.
Globally, FCA has 162 manufacturing operations — assembly, component, stamping and machining plants — and another 87 r&d centers. In North America, FCA has a network of about 2,600 U.S. dealerships, as well as extensive distribution networks in Canada and Mexico.
And unlike other, larger publicly owned automakers with similar global footprints, Marchionne and his bosses at Exor have made one thing clear: Write a big enough check, and the keys to FCA are yours.
When it became apparent in late 2015 that FCA's attempts to merge with General Motors had been rejected and any effort to tie up with Volkswagen was shut down because of that automaker's then-blooming diesel emissions scandal, Marchionne began focusing attention inward, looking at why his company had not been more attractive to potential partners. In early 2016, he began implementing radical changes to make FCA more appealing, especially to an Asian automaker, but also to Volkswagen.
First, FCA shocked the industry by ending production of its compact and midsize sedans in the U.S., the Dodge Dart and Chrysler 200. The cars had been among the first fruits of bankrupt Chrysler's 2009 shotgun marriage to Fiat S.p.A., but both had disappointing sales.
At the same time, Marchionne expanded development for his two cash cows, Jeep and Ram. He retooled plants from unibody construction back to body-on-frame to expand production of the Ram 1500 and Jeep Wrangler, and he announced that, after years of consumer clamoring, Jeep would again build a pickup and would soon build big luxury Jeeps to compete with Land Rover.
Product development plans laid out in 2014 — to vastly expand the Chrysler lineup, for example — were scrapped. FCA's North American product line would go where the money was: pickups, SUVs and the minivan.