At least Sergio Marchionne won’t have to endure any more jokes about producing Maseratis on Jeep’s production line.
But the Italian maker’s announcement this week that the Maserati Levante SUV – based on the Jeep Grand Cherokee platform – will be made in Italy instead of Detroit’s Jefferson Assembly doesn’t obscure the fact that Fiat has the SUV bug.
And that is the supreme irony of Fiat’s takeover of Chrysler: The European company that President Obama brought in to civilize the truck-making Detroit heathens on how to make fuel-sipping, global warming-fighting tin cans has instead discovered the profit-making wonders of the light truck.
Sure, Fiat’s nifty little 500 compact has started to sell in the U.S. after a slow start – but it will never have the profit margins that trucks do. That’s why Chrysler’s real savior has been the resurgence of its Jeep and Dodge SUVs, now consuming three shifts a day in Detroit. Savvy Sergio has realized that that is where the money is – not only in the U.S. market, but globally. Porsche’s best-selling model of all-time is the Porsche Cayenne SUV – and the Italians are envious. Thus the Maserati Levante (introduced at last year’s Detroit auto show as the Kubang). And thus the Lavante’s production in Europe where Fiat is suffering financially (and where the company needs to fill excess, union-mandated plant capacity to boot).
Our ideologue-in-chief may think the world wants smaller autos – but ideologues don’t survive long at the head of auto companies. Obama’s small car missionary to Chrysler is a truck convert.