It was the ever-besweatered Sergio Marchionne’s exasperated face that appeared on the world Formula 1 feed from the Russian Grand Prix on Sunday, not Amedeo Felisa’s, after Red Bull driver Daniil Kvyat bumped Sebastian Vettel’s car twice in two turns to knock the Ferrari star out on the first lap of the race. By Monday, Marchionne was named CEO by Ferrari’s board of directors, replacing Felisa, who formally retired after 26 years with the sports-car maker.
Marchionne already serves as the chairman of Ferrari, which was spun off from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles in January with a public stock offering. The U.S. NBC Sports feed of Sunday’s race from Sochi, Russia, coincidentally, referred to Marchionne as Ferrari’s “boss.”
That status became very apparent in 2014 when Luca Cordero di Montezemolo stepped down as Ferrari’s chairman, after more than 20 years with the company. Marchionne and di Montezemolo infamously clashed over production levels for the company’s sports cars. The clash came to a head when Marchionne presented FCA’s second Four-Year Plan (2014-’18) in May 2014 with di Montezemelo absent from the Auburn Hills, Michigan, presentation.
Ferrari production will remain at less than 10,000 units per year, Marchionne said, reflecting Montezemolo’s vision for the brand. Ferrari may have missed out on taking advantage of a booming luxury car market, especially in the U.S., where industry sales reached record levels in 2015, with premium brands leading the way. Meanwhile, high-end sports cars have gained a foothold in China, the world’s largest automotive market, though growth has slowed considerably recently.
Ferrari’s plan for several years now has been to take advantage of the growth of non-automotive luxury goods. That means more items, from hats and T-shirts to kiddie pedal cars to watches and jewelry wearing the Prancing Horse emblem. Whether Marchionne can — or wants to — bump up such branding beyond Felisa’s plans remains to be seen.
Ferrari common stock, which has sold for as much as $60.97 per share in its four-month history, opened at $46.50 per share Monday morning.
Felisa, 69, joined Ferrari from Alfa Romeo in 1990, and became Ferrari’s CEO in March 2008. While considered a close ally of Montezemelo, Ferrari also named Felisa executive director of the spinoff last October. While Fiat Chrysler spun off just 10 percent of Ferrari stock at the beginning of this year, with Fiat’s Agnelli family retaining 51 percent according to an earlier Bloomberg story, the company is controlled separately from FCA management.
“I have known Amedeo for more than a decade and I have had the opportunity to work with him closely for the last two years,” Marchionne said in a prepared statement. “He is beyond a doubt one of the best automotive engineers in the world. During the last 26 years, he has worked tirelessly to fuel and guide Ferrari’s technical development, producing an array of cars which have set the standard for both performance and styling.”
Marchionne has indicated he will step down as Fiat Chrysler’s chairman and CEO in 2018, when the company’s second five-year plan is complete. He will be 65 years old. Considering Felisa’s age currently, Marchionne could be the top executive running Ferrari – its sports cars, non-automotive merchandise, and its F1 team – to at least 2022.