MILAN – Profit at Italian carmaker Fiat more than tripled in the first quarter as Chrysler Group, its U.S. unit, gained market share on demand for its 200 and 300 sedans and helped offset falling revenues from mass-market car sales in Europe.
Earnings before interest, taxes and one-time items, which Fiat calls trading profit, surged to 866 million euros ($1.14 billion) from 251 million euros a year earlier, the carmaker said.
Sales more than doubled to 20.2 billion euros. Group revenue for both Fiat and Chrysler was 20.2 billion euros for the quarter.
Without profits from Chrysler, Fiat would have just broken even in the quarter because of volume declines in Europe, compared with a trading profit of 251 million euros ($330.92 million) in the first quarter of 2011.
Despite revenue in Europe falling by 13.1 percent to 4.5 billion euros, Fiat said it was on track with its business plan and confirmed all of its targets for 2012.
The results show Fiat-Chrysler continues to be a "two-speed" company, with sharply different performances between the Italian and U.S. units. When Fiat took management control of Chrysler in 2009, analysts said the U.S. automaker would be a major drag. Instead it has become Fiat's chief source of strength.
"Another positive quarter - built on sales gains that have surpassed the industry average - is affirmation that the Chrysler team is maintaining its focus," said Fiat-Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne in a statement on Thursday.
"To say we are satisfied over all would be a stretch, but we are at the upper end of anybody's reasonable expectations," Marchionne said, adding that he was unhappy with pricing pressures faced by Fiat's top-selling Panda model.
Marchionne is counting on Chrysler, which was consolidated into Fiat's results in June 2011, to propel profit for the group.