UWindsor alumni Mr. Fiat offers more than exported minivans

The Lancia Voyager, nearly identical to it’s Chrysler badged brother • photo coutesy Lancia The Lancia Voyager, nearly identical to it’s Chrysler badged brother • photo coutesy Lancia

Sergio Marchionne launches rebranded Windsor van in Italy and a scholarship at his alma mater

Stephen Hargreaves

Sergio Marchionne, CEO of Fiat S.p.A. and Chrysler Group LLC, and an alumnus of the University of Windsor “believes in Windsor.”

On Nov.1, Windsor’s Canadian Italian Business and Professional Association announced the Dr. Sergio Marchionne Scholarship Fund. Established with a $25,000 donation from Marchionne to CIBPA and an additional $25,000 in matching funds from the provincial government, the organization hopes the $50,000 endowment, likely to be broken into $2,000 scholarships, will be reserved for students pursuing studies in the automotive or engineering fields.

University development officer for individual giving, Fedela Falkner, said, “The details [of the scholarship] will likely be decided in consultation with Dr. Marchionne. More information will become available once the terms of reference and the cheque from CIBPA arrive.”

Sergio Marchionne • photo dgtmedia-simone wikimedia commons

Sergio Marchionne • photo dgtmedia-simone wikimedia commons

The donations and scholarship funds are made up of the money raised at the various 50th anniversary events of the CIBPA this year.

Marchionne, elected chairman of Chrysler in September, earned an MBA from the University of Windsor in 1980. He has been at the helm of post-bail out Chrysler since 2009, when Fiat purchased 53.5 per cent of the U.S. automaker. Less than two years later, following its emergence from Chapter 11 bankruptcy, Chrysler returned to profitability in the first quarter of 2011 and repaid all government loans by May.

Some link Marchionne’s success to his unique personality and management style. Upon his appointment as Chrysler CEO, he moved his office to the same floor as the engineering department away from the top-floor penthouse where the CEO’s office was traditionally located. He frequently quotes artists, musicians and historical figures in his signature baritone, always in pullover sweaters worn on top of a button-down shirt and black slacks, rather than the formal suits of his predecessors and contemporaries.

Marchionne even decided to take in lunch at the, less than high-end, Dominion House while in Windsor in January commenting; “same chairs, same carpet, same burgers.”

At a press conference last month, Marchionne announced a Fiat and Chrysler merger, that he claims will be finalized in the next three to four years.

“There’s no single doubt that at some point of time between now and the conclusion of the 2014 plan, we need to find a corporate convergence between Fiat and Chrysler,” said the trans-Atlantic CEO, on Oct. 28. “We are totally open to what the solution is going to yield.”

The 2014 plan Marchionne alludes to is already underway and it’s products can be seen rolling out of Chrysler’s Windsor Assembly Plant.

The WAP, which produces the Dodge Grand Caravan, Chrysler Grand Voyager, and Volkswagen Routan, has already begun to produce the Lancia Voyager. The new van, which launches to the Italian public this week, is little more than a Chrysler Grand Voyager wearing the iconic insignia of Lancia, an Italian luxury brand owned by Fiat.

The Lancia minivans are rolling down the assembly line with both left-hand and right-hand drive, according to employees at the plant, in preparation for sale in the UK as well as the rest of Europe. The Lancia Voyager is powered by the Chrysler 3.6 litre engine and the 2.8 litre diesel found in the VW Routan.

In an article from HIS Automotive, auto analyst Aaron Bragmantive said, “This shows how quickly they can integrate the Chrysler and Lancia brands. It remains to be seen if Europeans will accept vehicles that are obviously rebadged Chryslers.”

The Lancia Voyager, nearly identical to it’s Chrysler badged brother • photo coutesy Lancia

The Lancia Voyager, nearly identical to it’s Chrysler badged brother • photo coutesy Lancia

Launched alongside of the Windsor made Lancia van is the Thema, a rebadged Chrysler 300 from Chrysler’s manufacturing facility in Brampton, Ont.

Saad Chehab, the recently named head of Lancia, has the epic task of convincing skeptical European drivers that the rebranded, imported Chryslers are playing in the same league as the German made Audis and BMWs that clutter Italy’s highways.

“One of the selling points is accessibility,” Chehab said in an interview at a the launch of the Thema and Voyager at Fiat headquarters. “The biggest challenge is how do we grow these brands outside of their markets?”
Chehab said Lancia hopes to sell 10,000 to 15,000 of the Thema and Voyagers each annually. “They’re well known in their home markets. It’s not the same situation in the rest of the world.

Though Canadians will likely never see the van Lancia is calling, “an American icon, which Europe has brought back in style,” Marchionne is planning a change at the WAP that he hopes will kill off the “soccer mom” stigma of the minivan.

“We cannot have the same type of vehicle in the showroom because the consumer is not stupid,” Marchionne said in an interview with Automotive News. “We’re not going to create the confusion and conflict in the showroom.”

His solution is to kill off the vehicle that saved Chrysler in the 1980s, the Dodge Caravan.

The next-generation full-sized minivan, due in 2014, will be offered at Chrysler dealers only as the Chrysler Grand Voyager. Replacing the Dodge Caravan will be an SUV-styled minivan crossover offered in place of the Caravan, though still built on the minivan platform in Windsor.

“A crossover is more in line for Dodge to cover that segment than it is for anybody else to cover that segment,” Marchionne said. “This is intended to guarantee volumes of growth in [the Windsor Assembly] plant.”

“The future of [the Windsor Assembly Plant] is without a doubt guaranteed,” Marchionne said in a talk at the plant earlier this year. “I remember Windsor as the best time of my life when I was studying. It allowed me to grow up as a professional and it ended being a crucial part of my past.”

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