MILAN/DETROIT (Reuters) - Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV (FCA) said on Friday that new U.S. pickup truck models would help the automaker achieve its 2019 profit targets and offset a weak performance in the first quarter.
That renewed forecast sent FCA’s shares up 4 percent.
Nearly all - 98 percent - of the Italo-American automaker’s first-quarter profit was powered by its Ram pickup truck. FCA’s U.S. sales were down 3.1 percent in the quarter, but Ram sales were up more than 20 percent and outsold rival General Motor Co’s Chevrolet Silverado.
“The whole quarter was powered by Ram (pickup trucks) while the rest of the company was lagging,” said Michelle Krebs, an analyst at Cox Automotive, adding that FCA spent heavily on consumer discounts to outsell the Silverado.
“The question is whether the strong performance by Ram is going to be enough to give FCA a push moving forward,” Krebs said.
Analysts and investors have worried about FCA’s over-reliance on the U.S. market, given its loss-making operations in both Asia and Europe.
FCA expects new models such as the Jeep Gladiator pickup truck and all-new Ram heavy-duty trucks to help it meet full-year targets.
Chief Executive Mike Manley told analysts on a conference call most of the profit improvement would come in the second half of 2019.
The automaker posted a higher profit for the quarter in Latin America and Manley said the region’s strong performance should continue. He said FCA’s European region, which lost money in the quarter, would return to a profit with margins of around 3 percent by the end of 2019.
The carmaker has pledged to spend 5 billion euros ($5.58 billion) on new models and engines in Italy over the next three years to better use factories, plus boost jobs and margins in Europe.
Asked about potential partnerships, Manley said he expected the next two to three years to yield “significant opportunities” and FCA to play an “active role” in that environment.
FCA has been at the center of renewed merger speculation in recent months.
Chairman John Elkann - a scion of Italy’s Agnelli family that is FCA’s biggest shareholder - reiterated last month the family was prepared to take “bold and creative decisions” to help build a solid and attractive future for the carmaker.
FCA’s North American margin fell to 6.5 percent from 7.4 percent a year earlier, below the first-quarter margins posted by Detroit rivals GM and Ford Motor Co.
The company’s first-quarter operating profit fell 29 percent to 1.07 billion euros, below analyst expectations of 1.31 billion euros.
The operating profit at Maserati fell 87 percent, hurt by weakness in the Chinese market. CEO Manley said the performance of the luxury brand should improve in the second half of 2019.
FCA stuck to its full-year 2019 adjusted operating profit forecast of more than 6.7 billion euros.
“The numbers are pretty weak, but what’s good is that they confirmed their guidance, and this is giving support to FCA shares,” a Milan based analyst told Reuters.
In late trade in Milan, FCA shares were 4.2 percent at 14.11 euros.
Additional reporting by Stefano Rebaudo; Editing by Mark Potter and Nick Zieminski