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Fiat Chrysler still has eyes for GM, but would it settle for VW?

The Geneva Motor Show normally makes headlines for its super cars for the super-rich and this year was no exception with the likes of Lamborghini's Huracan Performante boasting the line's most powerful V10 engine ever built.

But the opening media day also gave the mass market a rare turn in the spotlight as Peugeot's swoop on General Motors' Opel restarted the wheel of matchmaking speculation.

"I said 10 years ago consolidation was coming," Renault Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn told me while playing down the competitive risks of a combined German-Franco car giant run by his former senior executive Carlos Tavares.

With Peugeot (PSA) jumping above Ghosn's alliance into the number two sales spot in Europe, many are wondering how industry rivals will respond. Daimler Chairman Dieter Zetsche was quick to put his Mercedes brand in a league of its own, shrugging off the risk of greater competition coming from PSA's premium growth strategy.

'VW has the most to lose'

Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Meanwhile, Fiat Chrysler chief Sergio Marchionne told me that "VW has the most to lose." This came a day after the Volkswagen boss, Matthias Mueller told me he was not concerned about the PSA-Opel deal.

However, Marchionne countered in characteristically candid fashion: "He would say that ... Matthias is putting on a brave face."

The Italian chief reserved plenty of praise for PSA's Carlos Tavares, meanwhile, predicting the notorious cost-cutter would reach his profitability targets under the combined entity even earlier than the 2026 target.

He was less convinced by the other side of the deal. Marchionne, who has made no secret of courting GM in the past, questioned CEO Mary Barra's logic. At the risk of sounding like a scorned lover, Marchionne said "I understand that they (GM) want to get out just to get rid of the problem, but you may have thrown out the baby with the bathwater."

But when I pressed the Fiat Chrysler boss to name the most desirable merger partner in a dwindling pool, he said affirmatively: "Still GM."

Marchionne may keep knocking

Marchionne may keep knocking on GM's door, but the bigger question is whether Mary Barra will answer. She is likely enjoying her newly divorced status, free of the baggage from a decade-long bad romance in Europe.

So where will Marchionne turn? Volkswagen has entered the rumor mill before, and the FCA boss was careful not to outright dismiss the possibility Tuesday, while hinting that the VW brand's uphill battle with the powerful works council is a formidable hurdle to a tie up.

"Matthias has had a tough year," Marchionne said with a look of sympathy before telling reporters: "I have no doubt that at the relevant time they (VW) may show up and have a chat. Misery, often loves company, as the old saying goes.