Sergio Marchionne Was An Icon Whose Legacy Will Continue On Both Sides Of The Atlantic

Sergio Marchionne has been the face of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles since the beginning and his unexpected departure and death continues to leave the automotive industry in a state of shock.

The news is tragic and Marchionne left this world far to soon.  However, he has already cemented a legacy that will continue for years to come.

While Marchionne would become synonymous with FCA, he started his automotive career at Fiat in 2003 when he was appointed to the company’s Board of Directors. One year later, he became Fiat CEO.

Marchionne gained international attention following the bankruptcy of Chrysler which had a string of owners in the preceding years including Daimler and Cerberus Capital Management. Fiat took a 20% stake in the American automaker and Marchionne was named its CEO in 2009.

Following his appointment, Marchionne took action to fix some of the company’s more glaring issues including subpar quality and woeful interiors. This didn’t happen overnight, and some of the improvements were already in the works, but there’s no denying that Jeep and Ram flourished under Marchionne’s leadership.

Perhaps one of Marchionne’s boldest moves came in 2016, when he announced the Chrysler 200 and Dodge Dart would be phased out. At the time, he said consumer interest in crossovers was now seen as a “permanent shift in demand” and noted low gas prices were expected to continue into the foreseeable future.

While gas prices have climbed since the announcement, Marchionne was spot on about the consumer shift towards crossovers. The decision to eliminate the 200 and Dart as well as other cars in the pipeline – including the entry-level Chrysler 100 and Dart SRT – allowed the company to spend its limited resources elsewhere.

A lot of the money went to Jeep, which has launched a string of successful products including the Compass, Renegade and Wrangler.  The brand’s importance to FCA’s bottom line is abundantly clear as Jeep sales in the United States have climbed from 231,701 units in 2009 to 828,522 units last year.

Marchionne’s bet on trucks and crossovers can also been seen in Ford’s decision to follow suit. It was a calculated risk and it appears to have paid off.

Of course, not everything Marchionne did was quite as successful. The decision to bring Fiat to the United States was undoubtedly a mistake as sales peaked at 46,121 units in 2014. Last year, the brand only sold 26,492 vehicles in America.

Marchionne and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles were also derided for over promising and under delivering. The company’s five year plans were full of new models, but only a fraction actually arrived in showrooms. Those that did, tended to be significantly delayed.

FCA’s effort to revive neglected brands has also been hit or miss as Alfa Romeo still has a long way to go if it wants to challenge market leaders such as BMW and Mercedes. However, the company has launched the Giulia and Stelvio and has plans for an assortment of new models by the end of 2022.

Maserati, on the other hand, has experienced massive growth thanks to new and redesigned vehicles such as the Ghibli, Quattroporte and Levante. Sales have started to weaken recently, but the new products have transformed the company from a niche automaker to a legitimate luxury brand.

While Marchionne has passed, his legacy will continue to influence the company for years to come. This means new roles for Chrysler and Dodge as the former will become a people mover brand, while the latter will be focused on performance.

Marchionne leaves FCA is relatively good place as the former executive was preparing to retire next year and made efforts to ensure the automaker was on solid financial standing when this occurred.  During the company’s Capital Markets day event, the executive traded in his trademark sweater for a tie to announce the automaker would be debt free by the end of June.

The decision to focus on eliminating debt undoubtedly played a role in the slow roll out of new products, but it put FCA in a strong position for the future.  Unfortunately, its one that Marchionne will never to get to see.

  • Mr. EP9

    And now comes the debate on whether that legacy was a good or bad thing.

    • Ilbirs

      I see his legacy like the one left by Heinrich Nordhoff in VW: for sure there were some mistakes and maybe some important changes would have been made earlier if the term was shorter but overall it’s more positive than negative.

    • designer_dick

      Get ready for *you who know* to write a deranged, hate-filled rebuttal of this in 3, 2, 1…

      • Status

        “…may not agree with what he says, but defend to the death his right to say it….”

        And yes, what you term hate-speech is still free speech.

      • Taegon Lewis

        I’m waiting for said *you-know-who*’s hateful response; and, hopefully, wait for someone to report/delete it. But, not before, we all call him out; until, said response is gone. Yet, I digress.

        I know, this is off-topic; but, *you-know-who* deserves all the negative responses, he gets. I’m too irritated, to mention his name. Doesn’t matter; if, it’s free-speech or opinionated. It’s still disrespectful and disgusting, for what he said; about, the death of a good (or, some-what above decent, IMO) CEO, like Sergio.

        • europeon

          Sorry, but I’m busy celebrating.
          And FYI *you know who* is a die hard Alfisti, owned several Alfa Romeos and a couple of Maseratis, bought from new, and would have bought more if they would only have offered them. I don’t know about you and the bunch of politically correct commenters, but all the money I invested in Fiat Group buying more than ten of their cars, kinda give the right and makes entitled to criticize things.

          • designer_dick

            You have a truly delusional opinion of your own importance.

          • ChrisInIL

            You’re not criticizing “things”. You’ve elevated the importance of “things” above the importance of people.

            This isn’t political correctness. It’s common decency.

            You don’t exhibit any.

    • LeStori

      When he took over FIAT it was essentially going bankrupt. Similary Chrysler. Today they are profitable. Sure he removed a lot of dead wood, Largely Chrysler and Dodge sedans . Concentrating on SUVs. Ford has since followed suit. As for Ferrari it is booming. So I supect his “legacy” is positive. Whether anyone else could have done better is a moot point.

  • Vassilis

    This sums everything up well. Not perfect (no one is) but a brilliant manager overall.

  • charlotteharry57

    There is nothing that would prevent Mike from redoing the “plan”.

  • kachuks

    Definitely an icon of the industry. Sometimes I have to be reminded who other auto CEO’s are, but my brain never seems to forget Serg.

  • Well despite the man several mistakes (I mean human are not perfect) He did save Fiat and Chrysler at the same time.

  • ErnieB

    I think some of the most awesome modern cars were built under his leadership.. dodge, fiat, Alfa Romeo and Ferrari have done some great work.. he is undeniably the most well known cEO of all large automotive corps.. yeah he had some controversy but he was very visible and engaged..

  • Mike Gauthier

    Thank you for reading

  • YUDHA BAGASKARA

    what will happen if martin winterkorn was died

  • fabri99

    Yes, there’s no denying that Marchionne was a brilliant manager. What made most (including me) unhappy were the delays (the first prototype for an Alfa SUV, the Kamal Concept, came out in 2003) and promised cars that never came. Above that, it certainly was painful to see many brands left to die (Lancia and Chrysler) or with models that had nothing to do with the range and that were just the result of poor rebadging (Lancia Flavia, Voyager and Thema are examples of this poor strategy). FCA’s problem, ultimately, was the huge number of brands they own and the lack of money to back them up and to provide a proper range for each brand. In this perspective, even though some choices are arguable and somewhat painful, I think Marchionne did well. The little money the group had have been invested in the right brands (the work done with Jeep deserves recognition, and strong are also the latest cars by Alfa Romeo).
    Even though some choices may have been a failure (Fiat in the US, Lancia-badged Chryslers) and some have been hurtful for enthusiasts (dying Lancias, delays, promised cars that never came), in the end Marchionne did save FCA and made it financially stable. It can be argued that he could have found other, more successful ways to do so.

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