When in Detroit, Do as the Americans Do

February 4, 2011

CHRYSLER/MINIVANIf Sergio Marchionne has learned one thing during his nearly two years at Chrysler, it’s this—you can’t turn an American carmaker into an Italian company.

That was the problem with former Chrysler parent Daimler AG, current Chrysler CEO Marchionne told reporters, auto dealers and  analysts at a San Francisco conference. The German automaker tried to “impose” its corporate culture on the American automaker during their nine-year partnership, a strategy that stifled creativity at the Auburn Hills, Michigan-based company.

For example, Daimler gave Chrysler managers a booklet that described the product development process– mostly in German, Marchionne said.

“Three-quarters of the words in the booklet were in German,” Marchionne told said in his remarks. “If you think that there’s no English equivalent to a word you use in German, you’re nuts.”

Daimler, the maker of Mercedes Benz vehicles, bought Chrysler in 1998 and ultimately sold the company to Cerberus in 2007. Chrysler filed for a U.S. funded bankruptcy after coming to the brink of collapse during the economic downturn in 2009.

That bankruptcy paved the way for Marchionne—who was CEO of Italy’s Fiat SpA– to take management control of Chrysler. In the past 20 months, the company has overhauled its lineup and quality testing practices with executives working around the clock. The company hopes its new vehicles will lure back jaded customers who long ago wrote off Chrysler products.

“We can open up the world to Chrysler, but I cannot turn her into an Italian company,” Marchionne said to a burst of applause from the crowd.



(By Deepa Seetharaman) 

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