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Chrysler boss Marchionne: We're in it together

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Chrysler boss Marchionne: We're in it together

BY TOM WALSH

FREE PRESS COLUMNIST

MACKINAC ISLAND -- Drawing comparisons between his company and its home state, Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne told Michigan business and political leaders Thursday that the resurgent automaker has added 1,600 workers this year to accelerate its product development.

"In many ways," he said, "the fates of Chrysler Group and the state of Michigan follow parallel paths. Skeptics had foreseen dire futures for both of us. We have all heard predictions that Chrysler would be relegated to the dustbin of history, and that Michigan's glory days are in the rearview mirror."

In an after-dinner speech at the Detroit Regional Chamber's annual policy conference at the Grand Hotel, Marchionne also received strong applause for his resounding endorsement of plans to build a second bridge over the Detroit River.

“I want to make it clear that Chrysler strongly supports the proposed DRIC,” he said. “Each day, Chrysler moves more than 1,300 shipments, some 2,000 cars and trucks, and makes 1,600 entries per day at the Detroit-Windsor border. Hundreds of our employees cross the border to work in the U.S. or Canada.”

And in an interview, the blunt-speaking Italian-Canadian CEO of both Chrysler and its partner Fiat said Chrysler is "ahead of schedule" in posting profits and stopping a severe cash drain less than a year after exiting a government-imposed Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Marchionne said "the thing we didn't see coming" was the battle with dealers that the company tried to eliminate as part of its drastic overhaul.

"We're winning most of the (arbitration) cases," he said, "but it's taking a lot of time and energy. It's a hassle."

Marchionne traveled to the island with Chrysler Chairman Robert Kidder and former Michigan Gov. Jim Blanchard, a Chrysler board member appointed by the UAW-run retiree health care trust that is Chrysler's largest shareholder.

Ignoring the Grand dining room's jacket-and-tie rule for men, Marchionne was clad in his signature black sweater as he told the crowd that Chrysler now has nearly 20,000 employees in Michigan, with annual wages of $1.8 billion. In addition to the 1,600 product development hires, Chrysler will start a second shift of 1,080 workers at its Detroit assembly plant to build the new Jeep Grand Cherokee.

Marchionne said the proposed second bridge between Detroit and Windsor -- the project known as DRIC for Detroit River International Crossing -- is essential to further growth for Chrysler.

"The need for an additional crossing to handle current and future trade flows is widely acknowledged, and it is imperative that this new crossing be completed as soon as possible," he said.

Bankruptcy and a government rescue of Chrysler and GM, Marchionne said, "facilitated a courageous shift that brought together government, trade unions, business, workers and financial institutions as partners with the goal of saving more than just the automotive industry."

But Chrysler and other automakers now face a host of new challenges, he said, singling out the rise of China as an automotive power.

"We cannot respond to this growth with a series of complaints that in the end all add up to one: 'Why can't the Chinese be like us?' " Marchionne said. "We cannot afford to be unprepared ... reassuring ourselves of our invincibility."

That message is spot-on. Detroit paid plenty for years of wallowing in denial and overconfidence. Now that Chrysler and GM appear to be stabilizing, it's imperative that they not relax. That's certainly not likely at Chrysler, not on Marchionne's watch.

link:

http://www.freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20100604/COL06/6040387/1210/Business01/Chrysler-boss-Marchionne-Were-in-it-together&template=fullarticle

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Fiat's Marchionne throws support to DRIC plan

Fiat-Chrysler chief calls proposed bridge project 'imperative'

Alisa Priddle / The Detroit News

Sergio Marchionne, chief executive of Chrysler Group LLC and its Italian partner Fiat SpA, took on a new role Thursday as outspoken Michiganian in a pointedly political speech at the Mackinac Policy Conference on Mackinac Island.

Marchionne, who jets between Auburn Hills and Turin, Italy, every week with little time to embrace his new Michigan home, expressed concern for the state while calling on government to ensure smooth cross-border trade between Detroit and Windsor.

"My purpose here this evening is to talk to you of the prospects we at Chrysler see for the global auto industry, how our alliance with Fiat can contribute to reshaping it, and how we can work in partnership with the state of Michigan for mutual advantage," Marchionne said.

A prime example: the proposed Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC), which would add a second bridge between Detroit and Windsor. The DRIC was approved last week by the Michigan House of Representatives but could face a rough passage through the Senate.

"I want to make it clear that Chrysler strongly supports the proposed DRIC," Marchionne said. "This proposed new crossing would add necessary redundancy and unimpeded access from Ontario's highways to Michigan's interstates."

On the line for Chrysler: 1,300 shipments and 2,000 vehicles daily, plus hundreds of employees who cross the border for work.

"Smooth crossing is essential to our just-in-time manufacturing enterprise," said Marchionne, who holds dual Canadian and Italian citizenship, and attended the University of Windsor.

"Engines made in Trenton or stampings from Warren or Sterling Heights cross the border daily for use at assembly plants in Ontario."

Industrywide, $100 million in goods crosses the border at Detroit daily, he said. Adding a second bridge is a $1.8 billion investment in the Detroit-Windsor area that would create 10,000 construction jobs in Michigan and 30,000 indirect jobs in the state and Windsor.

"It is imperative that this new crossing be completed as soon as possible," he said, commending state representatives who supported the DRIC, and urging the Michigan Senate to do the same.

Marchionne also called for government help to establish the infrastructure to make fuel more available for vehicles powered by compressed natural gas.

Fiat has a line of vehicles that run on natural gas and Chrysler is exploring applications for the technology, he said. One solution might be home units so customers could refill their cars from their garage.

"This project needs adequate attention and needs to become a priority in federal and state political agendas," Marchionne said. "It is the most effective solution, in terms of costs and timing, to lessen this country's reliance on oil, especially foreign oil, while delivering a significant reduction in emissions."

Such moves are in the interests of all the stakeholders, he said, noting the parallel paths of Chrysler and Michigan.

"Skeptics had foreseen dire futures for both of us," he said. "We have all heard predictions that Chrysler would be relegated to the dustbin of history, and that Michigan's glory days are in the rear-view mirror."

Marchionne disputes such views, and repeated past comments that it can take a crisis to stir change. The trick is to ensure that when prosperity returns, complacency does not undo all the efforts.

From The Detroit News: http://detnews.com/article/20100604/BIZ/6040369/1148/AUTO01/Fiat-s-Marchionne-throws-support-to-DRIC-plan#ixzz0ptHRRNPF

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