Fiat Chrysler to present new plan next year, asset sales possible

MILAN (Reuters) - Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) FCHA.MI Chief Executive Sergio Marchionne will present a new five-year plan in early 2018, he said on Thursday, launching the next stage of a strategic revamp that could also include some asset sales.

A specialist trader works at the post where Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is traded on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., March 8, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Since 2014 Marchionne has focused on revamping the sporty Alfa Romeo and luxury Maserati brands and turning Jeep into a global sales engine.

But as the 65-year-old prepares to step down in early 2019, he said the time had come to take into account new industry challenges, including the need to comply with more stringent emissions requirements and a push for autonomous driving.

One pillar of the new strategy will be a push into electrification, with Marchionne promising to incorporate the technology into new models after 2019, including at Maserati.

While Marchionne acknowledged that Maserati, Alfa Romeo and some other successful FCA brands could exist on their own, he appeared to pour cold water on the idea that any of them would be sold. He said he had to worry about the “stump that’s left behind” if he parted ways with the most profitable parts.

In comments that could pave the way for possible spin-offs or asset sales, Marchionne added, however, that the carmaker needed to decide whether all the activities within FCA were fundamental to running it.

“If the answer is no, then we have an obligation to purify that portfolio,” he told analysts on a conference call. “I don’t think that (spin-off) story, at least vis-à-vis FCA, is over.”

FCA owns three components businesses which have been the target of M&A speculation for years, especially Magneti Marelli.

Marchionne, who has put a hunt for a merger partner on hold after being rebuffed by General Motors GM.N two years ago, reiterated that he would not be involved in running the company after 2018 and that the search for an in-house successor was progressing well.

Earlier on Thursday FCA reported a slightly better than expected 15 percent rise in second-quarter adjusted operating profit, helped by improvements in Europe and Latin America and continued strong performance in its main North American market.

Revenue was flat at 27.9 billion euros.

FCA has been retooling some U.S. factories to boost output of sport-utility vehicles (SUVs) and trucks while discontinuing production of some unprofitable sedans in a bid to strengthen its finances as the U.S. car market comes off its peak.

The world’s seventh-largest carmaker still makes the lion’s share of its profits in North America so improving, or at least maintaining, its margins there is a key focus.

FCA reported a record 8.4 percent operating profit margin in the region, despite a drop in sales and shipments.

Profitability also improved in Europe, helped by sales of Alfa Romeo’s Giulia and Stelvio models, while margins at Maserati more than doubled to 14.2 percent on the back of strong demand for its first SUV, the Levante.

However, the carmaker’s net industrial debt only fell slightly less than expected to 4.2 billion euros ($4.9 billion) at the end of June from 5.1 billion euros three months earlier.

FCA confirmed its targets for the full year, but doubts remain about its exposure to the weakening U.S. market, recall costs and potential fines over emissions after it was targeted by European and U.S. authorities over alleged breaches.

Additional reporting by Stefano Rebaudo in Milan and Joe White in Detroit; editing by David Clarke and Susan Thomas