Marchionne's Chrysler Surprise: A Weaker than Expected Company

Sergio Marchionne
CNBC.com
Sergio Marchionne

Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne candidly admits the troubled American auto maker was far weaker than expected when he finally took over as CEO. I caught up with him at the Frankfurt Auto Show, and he pulled no punches in assessing what he found at Chrysler when he became CEO.

"There is a whole pile of stuff that we saw when we came in that we were not expecting. Probably the single largest surprise to us that happened in the last 24 months (was what was needed) to get this machine competitive," said Marchionne.

  • Chrysler Plan to Be Presented by End-November

In other words, Chrysler was a shell of company. Sure it had 9 % of the U.S. market with a strong, untapped brand in Jeep, but otherwise it was a company withering on the vine. Marchionne told me, "I think it (Chrysler) was distracted by a variety of issues, the prices in 2008, and I think to reconstitute the organization to try to fight again has been more difficult than I thought."

That said, Marchionne has wasted no time stripping out the bureaucracy at Chrysler and pressing Chrysler and Fiat to have more clarity about future plans. And while Chrysler may have been a mess when Marchionne took over in June, he's confident the folks in Auburn Hills can fix the auto company. He said, "We are sitting here 90 days after the start and I feel a lot better now. I think that the team is in place most of it is right so lets keep on flying."

Fixing Chrysler will take time. Marchionne knows that. But he's not wasting time. In November he'll outline the joint product strategy of Fiat and Chrysler. While all indications are we won't see any new Chrysler models for a coupe years at the soonest, Marchionne is being coy. When I asked him about Chrysler not having any brand new models in the pipeline, he smiled, and said to me, "Who says? We'll see in November."

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