By Peter M. De Lorenzo
Detroit. I think that some people out there have been lulled into thinking that now that Sergio Marchionne, the CEO of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), has achieved full automotive sainthood - as bestowed by certain members of the automotive media who should know better - and assumed his rightful place in the pantheon of automotive greats – in the gilded caverns of his own mind at least – that we would be finally free from the bombastic bullshit that he specializes in, if only for oh, I don’t know, a month or two anyway.
After all, the guffaws were just subsiding after his wildly ridiculous boasts last spring when he assured Wall Street analysts and everyone else within earshot that he’d be selling 75,000 Alfa Romeos a year here by 2018. That went over like a lead balloon with analysts, with the thud only drowned out by the table-slapping laughter. Whatever goodwill Sergio accrued from the latest resurrection of Chrysler was pretty much blown-up real good by his insistence that Alfa Romeo would be a mainstream automotive player along the lines of Audi in less than four years.
This came, of course, after The Great Sergio had firmly established his glowing reputation by expertly taking credit for the hot-selling Jeeps and Dodge Ram Trucks (yeah, I said Dodge, get over it) that were flying out the door, embellishing Sergio’s saintliness with each passing month. You remember Jeep and Ram Truck, don’t you? The two vehicles solely responsible for the latest “miracle” resurrection of Chrysler? The vehicles that the True Believers out in Auburn Hills were actually responsible for?
Sergio would like everyone to focus on him rather than dredge up those annoying details, after all, when you’re purported to be able to walk on water, why bring up the poor wretches manning the oars in the galley?
And knowing all of that, is it really all that surprising that The Great Sergio really stepped in it last week on a conference call with the media when he came out and said that suppliers’ double-digit profit margins were out of line? No, not at all, especially if you take into account the full depth and breadth of his almost limitless capacity for egomaniacal self-delusion.
Marchionne actually had the audacity to say - while referring to automotive suppliers that Chrysler does business with - that he needs “to find a way that we can at least participate in their well-being, and perhaps allow them to rub off some of their newfound wealth onto us…” The ensuing shit storm was like a bomb going off.
This from a guy, remember, whose troops are so undisciplined that they've posted their eye-popping sales numbers by disrupting the market with their scorched-earth policy of excessively high incentives and sub-prime lending? This from a guy who openly admitted that Chrysler's 55 percent profit drop in the latest quarter was the direct result of the company giving away the store to capture market share? This from a guy who has coached his troops to insult suppliers on a regular basis by throwing their bid numbers back to them and saying, "Cut it in half, then we'll talk"?
To their credit, the suppliers shot back, as reported by Automotive News: “Sergio needs to run his company as well as his suppliers are running theirs,” said Neil De Koker, the recently retired chairman of the Original Equipment Suppliers Association. “He wants to be the customer of choice for suppliers. He wants them to bring their best technology to them, and it will take supplier profitability to develop the technology Chrysler needs to reach the 54.5 mpg fuel standards that are coming. We won’t get there by taking money from each other,” De Koker said.
I've said it again and I'm sure I'll say it another 1,000 times at least, Marchionne is a consummate deal maker and an absolute genius at using OPM (Other People's Money) to further the flagging interests of that miserable excuse for a car company, aka Fiat. And he has done a masterful job at it.
But that doesn't mask the fact that the success of FCA should come with a giant asterisk behind it, because that "success" has been achieved by selling trucks and Jeeps, two things Sergio and his espresso-swilling minions know absolutely nothing about. The True Believers at Chrysler are responsible for any success FCA has experienced. They were doing it before Sergio and his posse got there, and they're doing it now.
As for The Great Sergio's alleged product acumen, you only have to look as far as the new Jeep Renegade - which was orchestrated by Sergio's henchmen to sell in other markets - to see that they don't have a frickin' clue as to what they're doing.
The only good thing about Sergio putting his foot in his mouth - yet again - is that it appears that he's finally used the last shred of faux goodwill accumulated from his press clippings and has been exposed for what he well and truly is: A carpetbagging opportunist who really is incapable of running a company once the deals are made.
It’s an entirely new dimension of pathetic when it comes right down to it.
And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.