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FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne Says New Dodge Viper is Possible

Expects Ferrari annual volume to reach 9,000.

DETROIT — FiatChrysler is considering a new Dodge Viper off a new, much more modern architecture, though its timing is unclear. The obvious platform would be the new rear-wheel-drive architecture that Alfa Romeo has developed for a series of models, including the BMW 3 Series-size Giulia, a 5 Series competitor, and replacements for the Dodge Challenger and Charger. The current car’s truck-based V-10 no doubt would be scrapped along with its platform.

“The Viper was, has been, a labor of love,” Sergio Marchionne said at his annual press conference at the North American International Auto Show here. The current car was developed following the 2009 Chrysler bankruptcy using aged, existing architecture and retaining the car’s 8.0-liter V-10 engine. “Given the architectural development within the brand, there is a possibility that a new version of the Viper may surface. Whether it will surface in time [to replace the current car, which is expected to cease production this year] is unclear to me.”

The economics of the 2016 Dodge Viper’s exclusive architecture “doesn’t add up to me.”

Marchionne said that delay of the first car off the Alfa RWD architecture has moved other models back, because they are to be introduced in sequence. The BMW 3 Series-sized Giulia goes on sale in the middle of this year, and a 5 Series-sized car will come next. Replacements for the Dodge Challenger and Charger, somewhat downsized from the current models, are expected off the architecture, and FCA is rumored to be working on a Dodge musclecar that will be smaller than the next Challenger; a convertible-only Barracuda.

Sergio Marchionne

Big plans for Alfa Romeo, to essentially turn it into a full-line premium brand serving as Jeep’s Italy-based counterpart, have changed, Marchionne said, because FCA is no longer counting on China as a centerpiece for the plan.

Asked about Ferrari’s relative stock market success [it was spun off this year from FiatChrysler stock, which has taken a hit in the Chinese-sourced bear market lately], Marchionne said that when the fabled Italian brand announces its calendar 2015 results, global sales will be about 6-percent higher than in 2014.

He extrapolates that the market can bear about 9,000 Ferraris per year, which would be an historic high, though still below the 10,000 barrier that was a source of friction between Marchionne and former Ferrari chief Luca di Montezemelo. Marchionne reiterated founder Enzo Ferrari’s pledge that the sports carmaker would always endeavor to build one fewer car than what the market demands.

Sergio Marchionne

Many reporters’ questions centered on Marchionne’s “Confessions of a Capital Junkie” speech and his well-publicized unsuccessful courting of General Motors as a merger or takeover partner. The fundamentals of the business haven’t changed, he said, and several other companies that would not have the same synergy as GM have unsuccessfully approached FCA. Wall Street and the press have mischaracterized Marchionne’s approaches to GM as an indication that FCA Five-Year Plan will not meet its goal of zero industrial debt by 2018 — FCA still plans to make that goal.

“The plan will give us a car company that’s fundamentally different than what we have today,” Marchionne said. Once that happens, he believes, a company like GM will be much more amenable to a merger. He also said he does not plan to retire that year, but only after the 2018 plan has been implemented.

Other issues covered in Marchionne’s wide-ranging press conference include:

*Profit margins on the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica plug-in hybrid minivan. Asked whether he expects to lose money on it as he says he does on the Fiat 500 electric vehicle, Marchionne said “hell, no.” Plug-ins will be a big part of the industry going forward, and automakers will have to make money on them.

*Diesels. “I think the diesel has been hammered,” Marchionne said. “Not sufficiently to be irreparable, but it has been hammered. There is nothing wrong with the diesel; there is something wrong with someone abusing the system.” FCA’s next Ram 1500 pickup under development now is being designed to meet future Corporate Average Fuel Economy requirements, so that FCA will no longer be required to purchase CO2 credits.

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