DETROIT –Automobiles SpA CEO Sergio Marchionne says he would look to the U.S. for a manufacturing solution if workers at the Italian auto maker’s oldest plant reject contract concessions.
Workers at’s Mirafiori plant in Turin, site of the company’s world headquarters, are set to vote Friday on a deal that would cut their benefits while increasing their workload.
In exchange, Fiat would invest €1 billion ($1.3 billion) in the plant. The outlay reportedly would accommodate production of cars and SUVs from a common platform for Fiat’s Alfa Romeo brand andGroup LLC’s Jeep marque.
“Then we’ll bring the platform and start working,” says Marchionne, who also is CEO of. “Hopefully, the car will be in production by the end of 2012.”
If the deal is rejected, Fiat would be compelled to consider an “alternative,” he says grimly during a roundtable discussion with journalists here at the North American International Auto Show. “(The) U.S. is probably the first beneficiary.”
Chrysler has a network of six U.S. assembly plants, along with two each in Canada and Mexico.
Marchionne confirmed last week a Canadian plant in Brampton, ON, Canada, would build a Lancia sedan destined for the European market. The car would share the platform that shoulders the Chrysler 300 E-segment sedan, which currently is assembled at Brampton.
Ironically, the Fiat standoff recalls a similar clash in Canada. In 2009, before Fiat took management control of Chrysler, the U.S. auto maker warned the Canadian Auto Workers union it was prepared to pull its manufacturing operations out of the country if it did not win contract concessions.
“We have to bring (Fiat labor talks) to the point of providing absolute clarity; and clarity is available Friday night,” Marchionne says, confiding Fiat’s labor strife has come at a price. Jovial during most of his wide-ranging chat, his tone becomes gravely serious and his voice betrays fatigue.
“It’s (labor negotiations) taking a huge amount of time; it’s taking a huge amount of resources…a lot of physical (hardship) on me,” he says.
Marchionne is upbeat through most of the conversation because, he says, he pulled off what many industry experts said he couldn’t do. Under his leadership, Chrysler launched 16 new or significantly refreshed products in 12 months, ending a product-development drought that contributed to the auto maker’s bankruptcy in 2009.
“Sixteen products for a car company is a lifetime of product development,” he says. “We launched new engines, new architectures, new cars, new interiors, everything. (If) you want to concoct a recipe for potential disaster, that’s the way you’d do it.”
Marchionne adds: “If I can’t sell these, I can’t sell anything.”
But he’s far from done. In addition to a Fiat-based Dodge car set to arrive next year, he reveals Chrysler is working to revive the Jeep Grand Wagoneer nameplate as a 3-row SUV to be introduced in 2013.
The 3-row Jeep Commander, phased out of the North American market last year, was “unfit for human consumption,” he says.
Expect also a new “people-mover” to complement a next-generation minivan. And Chrysler’s participation in the minivan segment likely will be restricted to one brand. Currently, Chrysler sells the Dodge Grand Caravan and its core-brand platform-mate, the Town & Country.
A diesel-powered Jeep Grand Cherokee also is under consideration for Canada. U.S. consumers are possessed of a “natural reluctance” to embrace diesel-powered passenger vehicles, Marchionne says.