Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles has been a bit of an oddball in today’s modern auto industry. While automakers scurry to partner with technology companies, forge autonomous vehicle partnerships and build production electric and other alternative propulsion vehicles, FCA has largely sat on the side of things.
Automobile sat down with Sergio Marchionne, FCA CEO, to discuss an incredibly wide range of topics. One thing is certain: Marchionne is still determined to find the right business model for the future. He notes not a single electric vehicle plan or mobility project has flourished into a profitable venture. Successful? Yes. Profitable? No.
“I don’t make iPhones. I make cars. Why don’t I make the iPhone of cars? Because if it looks and smells like Tesla, I don’t know how to make that economic model work. There is nothing Tesla does that we cannot also do. We build cars, sell them, and are still able to pay the bills. But I’m not even sure you can recover all of your costs — let alone generate a profit — through electrification. The answer is bound to be somewhere else, and the question is whether we are doing enough to try explore that somewhere else.”
Marchionne also shies away from calling FCA any sort of “mobility” company.
“Contrary to what some of my colleagues believe, we are not in the mobility business. We don’t move people around. There was a time when everyone started buying rental car companies because we thought that was an easy sales channel. For similar reasons, we were in the finance business. But at the end of the day, we are only building the tools that allow people to be mobile. I don’t want to buy into the distribution machine like GM did by paying $500 million for a 10-percent stake in Lyft.”
The two-hour-long interview didn’t even touch other hot topics such as Dodge and Chrysler’s thinning portfolios, delayed products, potential mergers and more. One thing is certain, though: Marchionne is determined to leave FCA in good hands and will look long and hard to ensure it happens.
“We’ll see plenty of new vehicles embedding incredibly high levels of technology, which give you a choice between to drive and not to drive. But the car will not take over unless you ask it to. And there is more. Like how to get a handle on the highly critical infrastructure, how to jump the safety-related and legal hurdles, how to stop people perceiving carmakers as national champions, like airlines. Instead, it’s the big picture that counts. To be in it, I’m prepared to strike a deal with the devil.”