Big bet on Alfa, Jeep
Fiat Chrysler will build Jeeps in China and Brazil and revamp its battered Alfa Romeo brand in a bid to convince investors it can turn the newly merged automaker into a thriving global business.
The new business plan likely will include a revised corporate structure and investing up to 9 billion euros ($12.5 billion) to end losses in Europe. It will be focused on expanding Alfa Romeo, Maserati and Jeep into global nameplates, people familiar have said in recent months.
"Key points of the investor day will be the strategy for Alfa Romeo and whether it can be funded with existing resources," Philippe Houchois, a London-based analyst at UBS, wrote in a report to investors.
Alfa Romeo will develop a new line of rear-wheel-drive sedans and SUVs, sources have said. The models will begin hitting the market in 2016, and high-end versions will be equipped with engines developed by Ferrari, the sources said. The relaunch will be boosted by selling cars through Jeep's international dealer network, widening Alfa's reach, they said.
The revival of Alfa Romeo is key to Marchionne's plans for the merged carmaker. The CEO believes Alfa has the potential to help drive profit for the group, in the same way that Audi does at VW Group, by commanding higher prices than mass-market models bearing the Chrysler, Dodge or Fiat badges.
Analysts, however, say considerable time and billions of euros will be needed to erase the weak quality reputation for Alfa, a brand that has been kept on life support for years.
The success, or otherwise, of an Alfa Romeo renaissance will be central to whether Fiat survives a difficult European market, allowing the group to fill idled plants in Italy and reinstate thousands of workers placed on temporary layoff schemes.
More Jeeps & Maseratis
Jeep, with ready products and a globally recognized brand in the fast-growing SUV segment, is Marchionne's best bet to grow sales, boost margins and to gain a global manufacturing footprint in Fiat's home turf in Europe and in fast-growing markets such as Brazil and China.
A subcompact Jeep called the Renegade will go into production in Italy later this year -- the brand's first model to be built exclusively outside the United States -- and that same model will also be built in Brazil as of next year.
The Renegade is critical for the brand's overall sales target of 1 million vehicles this year, a jump of 37 percent over 2013.
While most analysts call the target ambitious, they agree Jeep is the only truly global brand currently in Fiat Chrysler's portfolio and its best opportunity to expand in Asia, the fastest-growing global car market but also the group's blind spot.
Fiat Chrysler's joint venture in China, Jeep's largest market outside the United States, also plans to manufacture three Jeep models locally, with the first due in late 2015.
Marchionne also plans to further revamp Maserati through a likely boost in production and the addition of a sports car based on the Alfieri concept that was at the Geneva auto show in March. The Alfieri would be part of an expansion already under way at that brand, people familiar with the matter said last month.
Maserati's performance last year was encouraging, with trading profit tripling and deliveries doubling.
Marchionne's challenges are huge, from finding the money to fund the plan to implementing it in a cut-throat industry where demand is still subdued in Europe and is now flagging in some major emerging markets such as Brazil.
The CEO, who will lay out his plans through 2018 today, is keeping open the possibility of raising funds with an equity-linked loan at a later date following a planned listing in New York, three of the people said.
Fiat, which had 22.7 billion euros of available liquidity at the end of 2013, expects its debt to increase to as much as 10.3 billion euros at the end of the year after the acquisition of Chrysler.
Marchionne, 61, targets completing the merger of the Italian and U.S. carmakers by the end of 2014, he said in March. The new entity, named Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, will have its main stock listing in New York while it will be registered in the Netherlands with a fiscal domicile in the UK for tax purposes.
Fiat started accumulating Chrysler stock in 2009 as part of a rescue of the U.S. carmaker following the global recession. Without the division, Fiat would have been unprofitable in 2012 and 2013 because of losses in Europe.
Marchionne has said previously that annual deliveries may exceed 6 million cars by 2018, compared with the 4.5 million to 4.6 million vehicles Fiat and Chrysler plan to sell in 2014.
VW, which overtook GM as the world's second-biggest auto manufacturer last year, is targeting sales of more than 10 million cars and trucks in 2014. Toyota, the global car-industry leader, is forecasting deliveries of 10.32 million vehicles this year.
Marchionne's latest strategic program "will be beyond ambitious and accompanied by huge volume and profit targets, most notably the rebirth of Alfa Romeo but also a growth plan for Chrysler, a China plan for Jeep, a Brazil strategy and probably" a competitor to Renault's budget Dacia cars, Max Warburton, a Sanford C. Bernstein analyst, wrote in a report to clients on May 2. "But will the market buy it?"
Charles Child, Reuters and Bloomberg contributed to this report