Sergio's open playbook

Richard Truett covers engineering for Automotive News Europe sister publication Automotive News.Richard Truett covers engineering for Automotive News Europe sister publication Automotive News.
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DETROIT -- Fiat Chrysler executives did something highly unusual Tuesday: They revealed to analysts and media key pillars of the company’s product plans, financial goals and sales targets for the next five years.

Most automakers keep their playbooks secret for as long as possible. They don’t tip their hands because they don’t want to give rivals time to devise strategies to derail those plans.

But under CEO Sergio Marchionne, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles will continue to be a different kind of company. This is the second time since his Fiat took control of Chrysler five years ago that he has let everyone see where he planned to go.

Maybe Fiat Chrysler can afford to talk about specific product plans for 2016 and beyond because it doesn’t fear what other automakers might do. When you have unique brands like Ferrari, Maserati, Jeep and Ram, maybe you can be a bit more open than the Fords, Hondas and Audis of the world.

Some of the openness, of course, is to demonstrate to analysts and investors that Fiat Chrysler has a strong, well-reasoned plan to deliver sustainable growth and profits. That will help when it comes to selling shares in his newly combined company.

The candor Fiat Chrysler executives displayed Tuesday was also unusual. Harald Wester, head of Alfa Romeo, for example, admitted the brand failed to capitalize on its racing success and performance heritage over the years. What’s more, Alfa’s image was sullied by cars that strayed too far from its DNA.

Automakers also typically don’t talk much about future engine technologies. Fiat Chrysler powertrain chief Bob Lee blew that notion out of the water when he revealed plans for hybrids. He also showed many details of the company’s future gasoline engines, which will employ technologies seen in today’s diesels. Fiat Chrysler merging gasoline- and diesel-engine technology would make a headline any day of the week. Today, it was one of dozens.

Sitting here Tuesday listening to sales forecasts globally and future product plans had me wondering if we’ll see more openness from General Motors, Toyota and others. Considering how tough it is to make a buck in this business, I doubt it.

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