Some fear Fiat plan with Chrysler and GM takes on too much

Fiat's ambitious plan to become one of the world's biggest car companies by not only saving Chrysler but by absorbing General Motors' European and Latin American operations could be too big a bite.

"Bound to fail," says academic and former auto CEO Gerald Meyers. "It would be too much for anyone," says Meyers, professor and crisis-management specialist at the University of Michigan's Ross business school.

Fiat's plan to take over European and Latin American operations from troubled GM gm and partner with Chrysler would triple its output to about 6 million vehicles worldwide and stretch its management across three continents.

"It seems like a lot," says Rebecca Lindland, chief auto-industry analyst at consultant IHS Global Insight. "Fiat's not even making money now."

The Italian industrial giant lost $547 million the first quarter. Fiat Auto makes up about half the company. Fiat's auto operations would become a separate company under the plan.

GM, operating on emergency government loans and fighting to stay out of bankruptcy court, is closing slow-selling Pontiac and seeking buyers for Opel, Saab, Hummer and Saturn.

Fiat sees it as an opportunity to grow to what CEO Sergio Marchionne says is the minimum survival size for global automakers within two years: about 6 million sales a year. Japan's Toyota, the largest, sold 9 million last year.

Fiat has agreed to provide small cars, fuel-saving technology and manufacturing assistance to Chrysler if it emerges from Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization and qualifies for additional government loans. Fiat also plans to sell its cars through Chrysler dealers.

In comments to industry analysts, Marchionne has said automakers must immediately adopt what he calls "a Wal-Mart-style approach" of selling lots of value-priced, mainstream cars.

He says successful companies will use a few platforms, or chassis, and differentiate them via bodies and interiors, cutting development and manufacturing costs. Each platform would have to sell 1 million or more a year to be profitable.

Volkswagen has been operating that way, using different bodies and interiors on shared platforms, and marketing the vehicles under VW, Audi, Seat and Skoda brand names worldwide. Some buyers, however, have resisted paying more for a VW when they can get similar hardware in a lower-price Seat.

The high-volume platform approach sounds like genius to some.

"We believe that combining Fiat, Chrysler and GM Europe would forge a global small-car champion," Goldman Sachs said in a note to clients Monday, when Fiat's bid for GM Europe was confirmed. "In our view, Marchionne's vision is not only transformational for Fiat Auto but potentially transformational for the entire auto industry."

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