Fiat just earned 5 percent more ownership in Chrysler for creating a product no one has bought yet.
Payment for non-performance. If you suspect this is government’s benchmark for success, you’d be right. More precisely, this is how the Obama administration measures success.
Let’s rewind the tape. Under King Obama’s gift of 20 percent of Chrysler to Fiat in 2009, His Highness decreed that Fiat would assume another 5 percent of the company upon production of a 4-cylinder engine in the United States. Not selling it. Simply producing it.
Why? Because Obama has decreed, against all evidence, that America wants small, fuel-efficient engines. Build them and they will come.
“Fiat’s initial 20 percent share of Chrysler rose to 25 percent in January, when it met the first government benchmark: production of a fuel-efficient, four-cylinder engine at its Dundee (Michigan) plant,” reports the Detroit News. Fiat could have built anything under this condition — a windmill-powered engine — since it only had to pleasure the king.
The engine is made for use in the Mexico-assembled Fiat 500, a Smart-car-sized tin can that has yet to go on sale in North America but that — even with gas prices soaring over $4 a gallon — is likely to find a market as cramped as its interior.
Reviews of the little pepperbox have been, well, brutal.
“So, what’s the new 500 like to drive? Um, can we go back to how cute it is?” writes even Supergreen Dan Neil of the Wall Street Journal. “To rag on its performance feels like berating a preschooler for poor spelling. If your driving cycle involves a lot of internodal transit, the 500 is not for you. At highway speeds, the powertrain becomes increasingly shouty, and around 80 miles per hour the machine starts hitting its head on the performance ceiling.”
“The lack of the automatic transmission . . . mystifies me,” continues Neil. “Fewer than 20 percent of Americans can actually stir their own gears.”
Obama’s ownership formula gets more absurd still.
Fiat gained yet another 5 percent of the company this week by increasing its sales of Chrysler vehicles outside North America. How did it achieve this? By selling Jeep SUVs, Chrysler’s mist desirable brand overseas. That is, while Obama forces low profit-margin Fiats on the U.S. where there is no market, Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne is bringing big-profit-margin Jeeps to Europe where Euros crave its size. “Jeep defined the SUV” says Sergio, who aims to multiply Euro sales to 125,000 a year by 2014 from a meager 15k now.
But wait, there’s more. The Italian automaker will gain yet another 5 percent ownership (35 percent total) of Chrysler later this year when it introduces a 40-mpg car. But, you might ask, surely the Fiat 500’s 1.4 liter, 100 HP, 4-cylinder mouse engine gets 40 mpg? Nope, it gets a mere 34 mpg.
Obama is transforming the U.S. auto industry as promised. Into what is anybody’s guess.