Chrysler now rescues its savior: Fiat

A Fiat logo on a keychain dangles next to the hood ornament of a Chrysler car.

Kai Ryssdal: We'll begin today with a brief item about the Federal Reserve. It met.

That's it. It met. No changes to interest rates. No new stimulus anything. Said they're gonna wait and see what the September data brings. So there's that.

On a somewhat brighter note, there's Detroit. This being the first of the month, we got car sales figures today. Chrysler's the standout, had its best July in five years. This is a story of changing fortunes. Not so long ago it was the Italian automaker Fiat -- and Uncle Sam, of course -- riding to Chrysler's rescue. Now its sales are up 13 percent from a year ago. But as with many things in the global economy at the moment, Europe's the weak spot.

Here's our senior business correspondent Bob Moon.


Bob Moon: It was like a bad case of déjà vu for the head of Fiat and Chrysler, Sergio Marchionne, as he took questions during a conference call with analysts. He was re-living the stagnation of the auto market -- on a different continent.

Sergio Marchionne: The European market is now heading for a fifth straight year of declines. So we're all staring at what I consider to be irrefutable evidence of market decay.

Marchionne is essentially turning to a page from Chrysler's comeback playbook -- the one Clint Eastwood read from during the Super Bowl.

Chrysler commercial: The people of Detroit know a little something about this. They almost lost everything. But we all pulled together. Now Motor City is fighting again.

Chrysler's slogan, of course, has been, "Imported from Detroit." And while that may sound exotic to a U.S. audience, the focus on car buyers here at home brought some criticism from industry analysts like Rebecca Lindland at IHS Global.

Rebecca Lindland: They were so dependent upon North America for all their sales, and ironically that's actually probably what's saving them right now, because they're really shielded from the chaos of Europe.

So much so that Marchionne says for the next few years, he intends to shift his focus -- adding to manufacturing shifts at Chrysler, even if it means closing  more plants in Europe. Lacey Plache is chief economist for the automotive research firm Edmunds. She says it makes sense to follow the money, as Chrysler's sales keep climbing.

Lacey Plache: They did see year-over-year growth for this July, making it the 28th month that they have seen year-over-year growth, which has got to be a record for Chrysler.

Plache says with Chrysler's strong line-up of redesigned cars, she expects that growth to continue.

I'm Bob Moon for Marketplace.

About the author

Bob Moon is Marketplace’s senior business correspondent, based in Los Angeles.

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