Preferring to refer to it as ‘from frying pan into fire’, Iain P W Robertson questions the sanity of a formerly strong Italian brand managing the potential volumes presented by the late Chrysler Corporation

chrysler-fiat1I make zero apology for promoting the Papa John’s pizza-making enterprise in the UK. While I love authentic Italian pizza, with its rough-thrown dough, the freshest of ingredients and a stone-baked intensity to its base, making regular trips to Napoli, Roma and Fi-Pi-Li are just not economically feasible. Therefore, the US slant (through the aforementioned franchised vendor) is a welcome alternative that makes the pre-frozen efforts of some rivals look decidedly sickly.

Italy’s motor industry was one totally dominated by the Fiat Group, until an unfortunate association with US giant, General Motors (GM), developed at the turn of the New Millennium. Not wishing to speak too much out of turn, GM screwed up royally. In fact, it has a history of screwing up every single one of its various automotive charges over the decades, not the least being Isuzu, Subaru, Suzuki and, most recently, Saab. chrysler-fiat2Yet, it remains one of the largest car brands in the world, largely because it originates in one of the largest car markets of the world.

It might be worth highlighting that GM also owns Vauxhall (in the UK) and Opel (in Europe), both manufacturing and sales operations. All you have to do is seek out the smaller headlines in some business publications to appreciate that, despite so many good stories emerging from within those brands, GM has allowed them to flounder, often helplessly. Fiat’s local reputation was ruined by the GM association, which crept into its dwindling domestic market share. Yet, there are other contributing factors, not the least being the virtual demise of the ruling Agnelli family, whose strength was such that it even insisted that the Pope be in attendance at the media launch of its second generation Punto line-up.

chrysler-fiat3However, the Chrysler-Jeep tale is hardly a glowing one. Seemingly always in trouble, shoved from pillar-to-post, latterly by Daimler-Benz, it has rested on its laurels for so long that it has only a limited future, despite still moderate US sales volumes. The first fruit of the liaison was evidenced by the ‘revival’ of the Lancia brand with ‘badge-engineered’ versions of the Ypsilon and Delta reappearing as Chryslers. Oops!

The final die has been cast in this Latin tragedy, as Fiat boss, Sr Sergio Marchionne, has handed over the £2.2bn needed for the Group to assume overall control of Chrysler-Jeep. Yet, he also presides over a £7.6bn Fiat and Alfa Romeo revitalisation programme, which makes me think that Sergio needs to be on darned good terms with his bankers.

Conclusion: Sometimes, the original recipes, like those that mama used to make, are best left alone, un-tampered. Taking a confused and troubled, albeit American concoction and providing it with a Continental spicy topping might be the consummate recipe for disaster and Fiat Group could become an even bigger loser. Forza Fiat!

About Iain P W Robertson

Frequently being told to 'go forth and multiply', Iain P W Robertson's automotive wisdom is based on almost forty years in the business, across all aspects from sport to production, at the highest levels. He likes dogs and drives a Suzuki (not related).