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Fiat Chrysler CEO says Jeep, Ram are strong enough brands to follow in Ferrari's footsteps

The exchange was straightforward.

"Sergio," began Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas on Fiat Chrysler's first-quarter earnings call. "Jeep and Ram ... are these businesses large enough, let's say together or separately, strong enough, independent enough to exist as a stand-alone entity outside of FCA, like Ferrari? "

"Yes," Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne responded.

Let the speculation begin. There was no follow-up question on Wednesday's call, so it's hard to know whether Marchionne and his team have seriously considered the idea. Following the call, a spokesperson for Fiat Chrysler declined to offer further comment to CNBC.

Yet Marchionne's track record shows anything is possible.

If there's one motivation that drives him as a CEO, it's making the best deals possible to generate cash for the parent company or a hefty return for shareholders.

Look at how Fiat Chrysler spun off Ferrari in late 2015. Before the luxury automaker's initial public offering and the eventual distribution of RACE shares to Fiat Chrysler shareholders, FCA's market cap was between $15 billion and $16 billion.

After unlocking the value of Ferrari, the two companies had a combined market cap of $21 billion. Since their split, the value of both automakers has continued to climb. Their combined market cap now tops $31 billion.

John Elkann, chairman of Fiat SpA, center left, and Sergio Marchionne, chief executive officer of Fiat SpA and Chrysler Group LLC, center right, look at the new Jeep Renegade SUV automobile, produced by Chrysler Group LLC, as it stands on display at the company's stand on the opening day of the 84th Geneva International Motor Show in Geneva, Switzerland.
Chris Ratcliffe | Bloomberg | Getty Images
John Elkann, chairman of Fiat SpA, center left, and Sergio Marchionne, chief executive officer of Fiat SpA and Chrysler Group LLC, center right, look at the new Jeep Renegade SUV automobile, produced by Chrysler Group LLC, as it stands on display at the company's stand on the opening day of the 84th Geneva International Motor Show in Geneva, Switzerland.

Like Ferrari, both Jeep and Ram are valuable brands with unique assets that would be attractive to another company or to spin off on their own.

Other than Tesla, Jeep may be the hottest auto brand in the world. Last year, Fiat Chrysler sold more than 1.4 million Jeeps worldwide, roughly four times more than were sold when Marchionne and his team took over via Fiat's acquisition of Chrysler in 2009.

Meanwhile, Ram trucks have been a steady profit generator with sales jumping more than 200 percent since 2009. Back then, Ram was just the name of Dodge brand pickup trucks. But Marchionne broke it out into a separate brand with four types of vehicles, most notably the pickup truck.

Of course, there's no indication Marchionne is actually looking to sell the two most valuable horses in Fiat Chrysler's stable. But when the CEO says one of his company's brands is strong enough to stand on its own — and then nothing else — it's sure to spark speculation from investors.

Marchionne's comments came as FCA reported a larger-than-expected first-quarter profit.