Cassino, which has an annual capacity of 300,000, produces the Alfa Giulietta, the Fiat Bravo and the Lancia Delta compact cars. The next-generation Giulietta will be exported to the United States, a plan that could give Cassino additional volume needed to remain open.
U.S. exports plan 'weak'
Marchionne's hopes of exporting cars to the United States appear to be pinned mostly on Alfa Romeo -- a brand the Italian group has so far failed to relaunch but which Marchionne plans to bring back to the U.S. market next year.
Italy's biggest metalworkers union, Fiom, said the plan to use Italian factories to export to the United States appeared weak. "Marchionne has tried to revive Alfa ever since he arrived and failed twice. The idea that it could work this time around seems ambitious and adventurous," Giorgio Airaudo, Fiom's national secretary for the car sector, told Reuters.
A new Alfa SUV is slated to go into production next year. Two other Alfa models -- a new Giulia and a sportscar called 4C -- branded "the most awaited car" by car magazine Top Gear -- will probably be launched in 2014.
Fiat could not confirm whether these models would be produced in Italy.
European car sales may fall this year for a fifth consecutive year. Giuseppe Berta, a professor at Bocconi University in Milan, said: "Vehicle production will keep on falling in Italy and Europe as we don't see the end of the crisis of car sales in the region."
Marchionne doesn't expect a recovery in Europe before 2014 and forecasts that Italian sales may slump this year to the lowest since 1985.
Fiat has moved back production of its Panda minicar to Italy from Poland. Marchionne decided to slow down the introduction of models in Europe because of the "scarcity" of demand, Marchionne told Corriere della Sera.
Fiat presented in 2010 a 20 billion-euro plan to boost production in Italy to 1.4 million vehicles a year by 2014 from 650,000 in 2009, in exchange for labor concessions from workers. Production of cars in the country fell 15 percent to less than 500,000 vehicles in 2011, according to carmakers' association Anfia.
The company introduced a new contract for its Italian workers beginning in January which includes longer shifts and shorter breaks. Fiom Cgil, Fiat's biggest union, contested the labor deal and said it will sue Fiat for anti-union behavior.
"Italian plants have the opportunity to export to the U.S.," Marchione told Corriere della Sera. "This is what I'm doing for Italy. I find it unbearably racist being described as an unpatriotic man."
VEBA Chrysler stake
Asked by Corriere della Sera about the 41.5 percent stake held by healthcare trust VEBA in Chrysler, Marchionne said VEBA would not remain a shareholder for long. "Either we buy those shares ... or we will find a way together to place them," he said.
Marchionne listed three possibilities to monetize the VEBA stake: an initial public offering (IPO) of Chrysler; Fiat buying the stake and taking 100 percent ownership of Chrysler; a merger of the publicly listed Fiat S.p.A. and privately owned Chrysler Group that will automatically transform the diluted VEBA stake in publicly traded shares
Marchionne said the IPO "is the least likely to happen."
Fiat has managed Chrysler since a 2009 bailout deal with the U.S. government and has a 58.5 percent stake in the group. The remaining 41.5 percent ownership remains with VEBA, which is affiliated to the United Auto Workers union.
Marchionne, who ruled out a capital increase at Fiat, noted the group had liquidity of 20 billion euros. "This liquidity is our (insurance) policy against a credit crunch; its cost is the insurance premium," he said.
Luca Ciferri, Bloomberg and Reuters contributed to this report