Chairman says Fiat-Chrysler CEO Marchionne to lead combined company for at least 3 years

DETROIT – Sergio Marchionne will lead a combined Chrysler and Fiat at least for three more years. But he’s not answering the sensitive question of where that company will be based.

Fiat Chairman John Elkann said Monday that Marchionne will stay CEO at least through 2016. Elkann and Marchionne spoke to reporters after the unveiling of a new midsize Chrysler car at the Detroit auto show.

Italian automaker Fiat SpA announced Jan. 1 that it reached a deal to acquire the remaining shares of Chrysler from a union trust fund for $3.65 billion. Fiat had previously owned 58.5 per cent of the U.S. automaker.

Marchionne said Fiat’s board will discuss where to locate the newly merged company when it meets on Jan. 29. Fiat SpA is headquartered in Turin, Italy, while Chrysler is in Auburn Hills, Michigan.

Where to place the corporate headquarters is a major decision — and a sensitive topic. Fiat got control of Chrysler after the U.S. government bailed the company out of bankruptcy protection. But Fiat is Italy’s largest private employer and a source of national pride, so moving the headquarters out of the country would be difficult.

A combined Fiat-Chrysler is the world’s seventh-largest automaker, with 4.4 million sales last year, Marchionne said.

Marchionne, 61, who spends much of his life on a corporate jet shuttling between Italy and Michigan, said previously that he planned to retire around 2015 or 2016. The new deal with Elkann extends that time frame somewhat. Marchionne expects his eventual successor to come from his management committee.

Marchionne said the company will have to have a legal home, and the U.S. “would have a large claim” because it’s a bigger financial centre. But he also hinted that the combined company would have multiple locations.

“Talking about headquarters is almost anachronistic,” he said. “We live in a world where power travels.”

He wouldn’t reveal the new company’s name but said it will have both “Fiat” and “Chrysler” in it.

Marchionne also said the company won’t offer new shares. Fiat stock is publicly traded, but Chrysler’s is not. Fiat shares, now traded in Italy, may have to be moved to a U.S. exchange if the company locates in Michigan.

Marchionne said Monday that the next challenges for the new company are to re-launch its premium brands, Alfa Romeo and Maserati, continue upgrading U.S. manufacturing operations and quickly turn Jeep into an international brand.


Auto Writer Dee-Ann Durbin contributed to this report.