The chairman of Italian car manufacturer Ferrari stepped down on Wednesday amid speculation that the brand - one of the most recognizable in the world - will be expanded and used to drive more sales, with parent company Fiat-Chrysler set for a flotation on Wall Street next month.
Famed for its blood red sports cars and prancing horse logo, it has been an integral part of international motor racing since 1950. However, with dwindling success on the track tensions came to a head last weekend when company execs were involved in a very public spat.
Sergio Marchionne, the CEO of parent company Fiat openly criticized the Ferrari team on Sunday after lackluster results in the Italian Formula 1 Grand Prix. Ferrari now hasn't won the lucrative Formula 1 driver's championship since 2007 after dominating for much of the previous two decades.
Luca di Montezemolo then jumped ship on Wednesday after much speculation and called it the "end of an era" in his leaving statement after 41 years at the company - with 23 years spent as chairman. He said that Ferrari will have an important role to play for Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles in the upcoming IPO (initial public offering) and added that his move would open up a "new and different phase" with Marchionne replacing the 67-year old.
Meanwhile, Marchionne thanked his predecessor and admitted that their mutual desire to see Ferrari achieve its true potential had led to "misunderstandings" which had become clearly visible.
Shares of Fiat rose 2.3 percent on Italy's FTSE MIB Index on Wednesday morning with investors giving Marchionne their backing as the Fiat CEO now consolidates his position over the part of the company he didn't previously control.
End of exclusivity?
Timothy Rea, a credit specialist at BNP Paribas who has a BB minus rating on Fiat, said in a research note on Wednesday that he believed that strategy-wise Montezemolo wanted to limit Ferrari sales, viewing the brand almost as a separate entity to the broader Fiat group, while Marchionne wanted stronger integration.
This tallies with media reports that suggest that Marchionne wants to incorporate the brand into the Fiat group further as it moves into the high-end car market and seeks to rival German carmakers like Volkswagen and BMW. It suggests the company could be ready to expand Ferrari's range of road cars which have found pride of place in many millionaires' garages.
However, if this is the strategy for Fiat and Ferrari then it has so far remained tight-lipped. In an investor presentation back in May, Marchionne extolled the virtues of keeping production capped for Ferrari to preserve the brand's uniqueness, and approximated that yearly sales volumes would remain near the 7,000 level even in five years' time. A spokesperson from Ferrari told CNBC that it could not comment on the rumors and would only announce any new products when it is ready to do so.
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Mike Dean, an equity analyst at Credit Suisse who covers Fiat's stock, told CNBC via telephone that limiting sales would mean little upside for Ferrari and would limit profitability for Fiat, although he added that it was currently a very small portion of the group's business.
Meanwhile, as well as the forthcoming IPO for Fiat-Chrysler, Rea believes that the idea of a separate Ferrari flotation in the near term should not be ruled which has also been the subject of a recent article in the Financial Times.
Talk had already began back in 2011 when Reuters news agency reported, citing sources, that several investment banks had approached Fiat with a proposal to list Ferrari on the Hong Kong stock exchange.
By Matt Clinch