Italian PM Renzi, Marchionne tout Fiat-Chrysler merger

Michael Wayland
The Detroit News

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and Chrysler Group LLC CEO and Chairman Sergio Marchionne are optimistic the formation of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles will be beneficial for the U.S. and Italy.

Renzi, who was given a tour of Chrysler's Auburn Hills headquarters Friday by Marchionne, said he sees the creation of the new company as an opportunity for his country's automotive industry to compete on a global scale.

"Globalization is not a monster," he said in Italian through a translator during a press conference before addressing about 200 employees. "It is the greatest opportunity for Italy."

The U.S. has already reaped many benefits from Fiat SpA taking a stake in Chrysler as part of the automotive bailout in June 2009, including more than $5.3 billion in new investments and nearly 27,800 new jobs. Many of those investments and jobs have benefited Michigan.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, left, with Fiat-Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne: “It is the greatest opportunity for Italy.”

Since announcing aspirations to create FCA in January, Marchionne has continually touted that integrating Chrysler and Fiat to create the world's seventh-largest automaker would be beneficial for both companies and countries. Fiat fully acquired Chrysler as part of a $4.35 billion deal with the United Auto Workers union trust fund that pays health care bills for retirees.

Marchionne, who also serves as CEO of Fiat, confirmed the company still plans to list FCA on the New York Stock Exchange on Columbus Day, Oct. 13.

"Columbus Day, for us, will be the beginning of a new world, a new era," he told employees through a translator.

FCA, Marchionne said, is a global company "not just in numbers, but in spirit," thanks to the combined reach of Fiat and Chrysler.

Renzi's visit to Chrysler's headquarters is the most recent sign of the growing connection between Italy and Michigan thanks to FCA, which is registered in the Netherlands and recently announced a headquarters in London's affluent West End business district.

The London headquarters was chosen for tax purposes and to avoid political controversy in the automakers' current home countries. Chrysler — founded in the U.S. in 1925 — was part of the $85 billion automotive bailout using U.S. taxpayer money, and Fiat was founded in Italy in 1899.

Marchionne and Renzi both downplayed the significance of where the headquarters is located.

"My only great concern is to reduce the number of people that don't have work in Italy," he said, adding Fiat is a "historic" and "great" company for Italy.

Italy's unemployment level is at more than 12 percent. That compares to U.S. unemployment at 6.1 percent in August.

Renzi compared his country's current employment problems to what the U.S. automotive industry went through in 2009, when Chrysler and crosstown rival General Motors Co. were forced into government-backed bankruptcies. He said he hopes his country can come out as well as Chrysler has in the U.S.

"I continue to believe that the best times are yet to come," he said.

This was Renzi's first visit to Chrysler's headquarters. It ends a five-day trip for the 39-year-old prime minister to the U.S. that also included visits to California and New York.

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