Expect same ol’, same ol’ for FCA dealers after merger

Industry

For FCA dealers in the U.S., news that Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and PSA have agreed to merge must be a bit like being told as an adult that your elderly, twice-divorced father is remarrying again.

You wish him well — but realistically, his decision is not likely to affect you too much.

Such is the consigned fate of FCA’s dealers and most employees in North America when it comes to the proposed merger between the two Europe-based automakers.

Together FCA and PSA would create the world’s fourth-largest automaker, presumably with enough global scale to effectively insulate the combined company from whatever regional calamities might assail one or the other separately at any given time. But it would also create a combined company with double the exposure to the long-troubled European market — and one perhaps even less able to carry out the tough task of bringing European supply and demand in line.

Will the French half of a combined FCA-PSA be willing to shutter a woefully underused Italian assembly plant? Or will the Italian half of this latest “merger of equals” cut production at plants in France?

To borrow an English phrase: Not bloody likely.

European national interests being what they are, a much-needed fundamental European restructuring is about as likely to emerge from this deal as is a bold, new lineup for Dodge or Chrysler.

Which brings us back to North America. For most of the last decade, the shattered remains of the former Chrysler has put the “CAsh” in FCA. In the third quarter, North America and its 10.6 percent profit margin accounted for all of FCA’s global profits, with Latin America being the only other region to make any money. The money came from Ram and Jeep, while both Chrysler and Dodge have been starved of new product and investment, and Fiat and Alfa Romeo are little more than slow-selling monuments to Italian ego.

Meanwhile, FCA’s technological debt — the cost of its persistently delayed investments in items such as improved fuel efficiency — compound daily.

Polite FCA dealers in North America will say “bonjour” to the French, “buona sera” to the Italians and “gute befreiung” to the Germans.

But as it stands, not much is likely to change — and that is a shame.

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