Fiat offers $125 million for Canada's Chrysler stake: CEO

VENICE Sat Jun 4, 2011 8:18am EDT

A U.S. flag flutters in the wind behind a Fiat logo at a car dealership in Alexandria, Virginia June 3, 2011. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

A U.S. flag flutters in the wind behind a Fiat logo at a car dealership in Alexandria, Virginia June 3, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

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VENICE (Reuters) - Fiat has offered $125 million to buy the Canadian government's stake in Chrysler Group LLC as it moves swiftly to strengthen its control of the U.S. automaker, Fiat Spa CEO Sergio Marchionne said on Saturday.

News of the offer comes just two days after the U.S. Treasury agreed to sell Fiat its remaining 6 percent equity stake in Chrysler for $500 million, raising Fiat's holding in Chrysler to 52 percent.

The Canadian government has a 1.7 percent holding in the U.S. number three automaker, which has been managed by Fiat under a 2009 bailout that gave the Italian group 20 percent of Chrysler and the possibility to gradually increase its stake under certain conditions.

"We presented an offer last Thursday for the Canadian government stake," Marchionne, who is also the CEO of Chrysler, told reporters in Venice on the sidelines of a conference.

Marchionne added that should Fiat reach a deal with VEBA -- the United Auto Workers' healthcare trust -- over the fund's 45.7 percent stake in Chrysler, a Chrysler IPO may "no longer be necessary."

Fiat, which already has an option on 40 percent of VEBA's shares, is paying $75 million for the U.S. Treasury's option to buy all Chrysler shares held by VEBA.

"We purchased that right (to buy the shares held by VEBA) to make sure no one else would sit at the table," said the Italian-Canadian manager, who has made Fiat one of Europe's top turnaround stories.

"All options are open. The objective is to monetize Veba's position, so we need to find a way to give them the money," he said.

Marchionne had said on Friday an IPO of Chrysler, which would allow the VEBA to cash out of its position in the company, was more likely in 2012 than this year.

VEBA is in no rush to sell and is looking to get the best possible return, two sources familiar with the matter said on Friday.

NO HQ MOVE FROM ITALY

Marchionne, who has in the past raised the prospect of an IPO of luxury sports brand Ferrari, reiterated this was a possibility, but added: "Right now we don't need money."

Asked about a rebound in Italy's new car sales in May -- the first rise after 13 straight monthly declines -- he said: "Technically speaking it's a reversal of the trend but the market is what it is, it is not healthy."

Marchionne also said he had no intention of moving Fiat's headquarters from Turin to the United States, a sensitive issue in Italy where Fiat is the biggest industrial group.

(Writing by Silvia Aloisi; editing by James Jukwey)

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