Friday 17 October 2014

FCA: now the real journey begins

Trading has begun in the shares of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles which are listed on the New York Stock Exchange under the stock ticker symbol “FCAU”.

The shares opened on 14 October at a price of $9. The price rose briefly before ending the day at $8.92. Considering the Dow Jones industrial average dropped 222 points late in the day, this was no mean achievement. The stock also trades on an exchange in Milan, Italy.

The share listing can be viewed as the latest twist in what has been a long road for chief executive Sergio Marchionne, who was asked in 2004 by John Elkann, Agnelli family heir and later chairman of Fiat (he is now chairman of FCA) to turnaround the automaker’s fortunes.

It was in 2007 that the troubled Chrysler Group was sold to New York private equity company Cerberus Capital Management from which it was purchased by Fiat. Marchionne oversaw the merger of Fiat with Chrysler and the eventual full takeover of the recently bankrupt automaker to form the new FCA.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) includes brands as diverse as Dodge and Ferrari, to diesel engines from VM Motori. This latest move by the chief is to turn FCA into one of the world’s leading automakers, by opening it up to global capital markets in order to fund an array of new models under a five-year strategy announced in May.

But Marcionne revealed recenbtly that he will stay on as CEO at FCA only until the end of his five-year strategy in 2018. So time is already running out for the great man.

On the face of it, Marcionne appears to have succeeded when Daimler AG has failed. Fiat Chrysler seems to have been given a new sense of identity – as well as new life and purpose. What magic touch does the Italian possess where the Daimler’s top hierarchy failed?

On the other hand, Tata Motors appears to have succeeded where Ford Motor Company failed in its handling of Jaguar, Volvo and Aston Martin. So Marchionne knows it can be done; hopefully, without 'smoke and mirrors'.

Nevertheless, it was without doubt an historic day for FCA to have its shares listed in New York and Milan this week, despite turmoil in the financial markets around the world - not the best time to launch a new company. 

However, as anyone who has run a company with shareholders will know, the path is not an easy one, especially as there are often hidden and unexpected dangers ahead. But it may be these that makes life exciting for Marcionne.

Marchionne has told media recently that he felt automakers were under-priced and that he expects future values to reflect this. Notwithstanding this, there is some scepticism as to whether the 62-year-old will be able to reach some of his stated goals for FCA.

His five-year strategy calls for US$60 billion to be invested in new products that, if all goes to plan, will see FCA’s sales grow 60 per cent to around seven million vehicles annually. That is a huge task in anyone's language.

Rival automakers like Daimler AG, Ford Motor Company, General Motors, Toyota and Volkswagen Group - to name but five - have ambitious plans of their own that take in China and other expanding regions. FCA is the world’s seventh largest automaker by volume. Time will tell how far it moves up the league table.

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