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Try, Try Again: Fiat Chrysler Enters Into a New Merger Pact

Bill Koenig
By Bill Koenig Senior Editor, SME Media

COMMENTARY

If at first you don’t succeed….

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles said Thursday it wants to go to the merger altar again. This time, it’s with Paris-based PSA Group. The move comes months after it attempted a merger with another French automaker, Renault, that didn’t work out.

FCA, under former CEO Sergio Marchionne, always sought a big transaction. Marchionne long felt Fiat Chrysler needed to combine with another automaker because an era of consolidation was coming.

Marchionne died in July 2018. He didn’t live to see Fiat Chrysler’s first attempt with Renault earlier this year, much less the new attempt with PSA, parent firm of Peugeot. But Marchionne’s successors clearly never gave up on the idea.

Meanwhile, PSA also has been preparing for a new era. The company two years ago acquired the former European operations of General Motors Co.

PSA and FCA said in a joint statement they’ve agreed “to work towards a full combination.” The companies intend to reach a binding accord “in the coming weeks.” The two said they can be more efficient without plant closings.

The PSA-FCA combination would be the world’s fourth-largest automaker, based on annual vehicle deliveries of 8.7 million. Shareholders of each company would own half of the merged entity.

John Elkann, chairman of FCA, would be chairman of the merged company. Carlos Tavares, CEO of PSA, would be the top executive of the merged automaker.

FCA includes the former Chrysler Corp. Since 1998, Chrysler was acquired by Daimler AG, sold to a U.S. private equity company and, finally, merged with Italy’s Fiat as part of a U.S.-backed bailout. (Elkann is a member of the Agnelli family that founded Fiat.) Chrysler veterans, by now, aren’t fazed by this sort of thing.

Profit Machine

The Chrysler portion of FCA is a profit engine, including Jeep sport-utility vehicles and Ram-brand trucks. FCA is building a new plant in Detroit to increase output of those models. That project is part of $4.5 billion in company investments.

The new merger is billed as a merger of equals. The 1998 deal between Daimler and Chrysler was supposed to be that. It quickly emerged as an acquisition of Chrysler by Daimler. The failed merger with Renault was also supposed to be a 50-50 merger. In any case, making mergers work is difficult.

Industry shifts pushed the companies to seek a merger. The industry faces the prospect of major investments in self-driving vehicles and electric vehicles. Self-driving vehicles are supposed to be the next big thing, but there are many uncertainties about how that will play out. Regulators in China and Europe want to pare emissions, putting pressure for more EVs. All of that will require a lot of resources.

Of course, those industry conditions already existed when FCA unsuccessfully attempted a merger with Renault. It remains to be seen whether this try will be more successful

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