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Fiat Chrysler chief at Detroit auto show: Company will not be broken up, given to Chinese

| Monday, Jan. 15, 2018, 5:51 p.m.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne, center, walks the floor at the North American International Auto Show, Monday, Jan. 15, 2018, in Detroit. Marchionne told media at the show that he'll step down in 2019 after leading the combined company since 2009.
Detroit News
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne, center, walks the floor at the North American International Auto Show, Monday, Jan. 15, 2018, in Detroit. Marchionne told media at the show that he'll step down in 2019 after leading the combined company since 2009.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles introduces the 2019 Ram 1500 pickup truck at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) on Jan. 15, 2018 in Detroit. The show is open to the public from Jan. 20-28.
Getty Images
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles introduces the 2019 Ram 1500 pickup truck at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) on Jan. 15, 2018 in Detroit. The show is open to the public from Jan. 20-28.

DETROIT — Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne tamped down on Monday speculation that his company could be split into pieces as part of a sale.

The notion gained steam last year as various Chinese companies were said to be interested in acquiring the iconic Jeep brand, which has been a major sales driver for Fiat Chrysler. Those rumors followed Marchionne's own comments on the need for consolidation in the auto industry and public overtures to both General Motors and Volkswagen.

Marchionne spoke to reporters during the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

"The answer is no we're not going to break up anything," Marchionne said. "We have no intention of breaking it up and giving it to the Chinese."

Marchionne noted that the company does have a good partner in Chinese automaker Guangzhou Automobile Group. That partnership lets FCA manufacture in China.

The discussion, lasting nearly an hour, touched on a range of topics, from the time frame for the company's board to name Marchionne's successor, likely June 1 (his anniversary date with Fiat) or later, to electrification, his hope that the Trump administration changes some of its demands related to North American Free Trade Agreement negotiations and even why trucks sell so well in the United States.

Marchionne's comments followed unveiling of the 2019 Ram 1500 pickup. It was not the first pickup to be shown in conjunction with the show — Chevrolet unveiled the 2019 Silverado and Ford offered up a 2019 Ranger — but it ranks as one of the most highly anticipated unveilings of the show.

Mike Manley, who heads the Ram brand for FCA, did the honors as three different versions of the new 1500 — Laramie, Limited and Rebel — were driven on stage.

The new truck will include a new engine option, a 2.0-liter inline 4-cylinder turbo built at the Trenton Engine Complex.

Manley noted that a diesel version of the truck, which is being built at the Sterling Heights Assembly Plant, will be available in 2019. Manley said Ram brand sales are up 163 percent since it was split off in 2009 from Dodge as a stand-alone brand.

Ram trucks were also a topic for Marchionne. Last week, the company announced that it would invest $1 billion in the Warren Truck Plant to transfer production of Ram Heavy Duty trucks from Mexico, creating 2,500 jobs in the process. The company will also give $2,000 bonuses to its employees in the United States, aside from senior leadership.

Marchionne noted that the new federal tax law would save the company about $1 billion. He called the production shift a kind of repatriation because the trucks, most of which are sold in the country, used to be built here. He said FCA was doing its civic and corporate duty and that the actions go a long way to address some of President Trump's concerns about production "dislocation."

In addition, Marchionne had a few words that should be reassuring for workers in Windsor. He said the company's commitment to the Windsor Assembly Plant is "unwavering," noting that the platform built for the Chrysler Pacifica minivan is capable of being used beyond its current function.

In discussing electrification, Marchionne noted that it would probably not make sense to make a big announcement on that front at the Detroit auto show, something Ford did earlier with an $11-billion commitment by 2022. Marchionne said vehicle electrification is coming at some point, but in the short term it will be more important in Europe, where he expects it to become mandatory, than in the U.S.

Marchionne was also asked about why truck sales are doing so well in the U.S. He said trucks are now as functional as cars, gas prices are low — and trucks are reflective of American values.

The questions went beyond Marchionne's role with FCA. He was also asked about a future utility vehicle for Ferrari, where Marchionne also is CEO, and what it might look like.

"It's whatever Ferrari thinks a utility vehicle should look like," he said coyly. "By definition it's going to drive like a Ferrari. It has to."

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