Analysts believe CEO Marchionne's planned exit next year could make FCA a tempting merger partner.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne is expected to leave the company next year after 14 years leading the company and its predecessor Fiat. The executive has been credited for turning around the ailing Chrysler business, transforming it from a bankrupt automaker into a profitable entity that has been biting off chunks of debt due to the strength of its Ram and Jeep brands. Still, Marchionne has been a proponent of consolidation before, and his exit could spur a merger deal for FCA—possibly with Ford, Volkswagen, PSA, or Geely.
“This is clearly the end of an era and maybe more, as Marchionne is not just the mastermind behind FCA, he is FCA,” said professor and former head of Fiat's archives, Giuseppe Berta, in an interview with Automotive News. “After he is gone, FCA will have to change, and this opens room for a big transformational deal.” The trade publication posits on a few partners should FCA hold hands with another automaker. The first possibility: cross-town rival Ford. Both FCA and Ford are family-controlled automakers and one analyst believes the Blue Oval could be better off with FCA in its corner.
“Ford is clearly the deal that makes the most sense,” Adam Wyden, founder of ADW Capital, told Automotive News. “Ford is struggling and needs to revamp its strategy” and FCA is “in a position of strength.” Another aspect that could drive a FCA-Ford merger is Donald Trump's “America First” policies. Still, the trade magazine offered two European options as possible suitors for FCA. The first was Volkswagen, which could use a partner with a strong presence in the United States to help it regain its foothold here. The other was PSA Group, which recently purchased Opel from General Motors.
FCA could give PSA—parent company of the Peugeot and Citroen brands—a presence in America, but a deal between the two companies could run afoul of European antitrust law, said PSA CEO Carlos Tavares last month. The last (and probably most likely) scenario would be for FCA to merge with a Chinese company. The Auburn Hills automaker held informal talks with China's Geely, parent of Volvo, before its chairman decided take a significant financial interest in Mercedes-Benz parent Daimler. Marchionne has said interest from Chinese automakers has been “obvious” in the past.