Goodbye, Sergio

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Sergio Marchionne has died – and we are the poorer for it.

Just 66 years old, the workaholic, smoke-a-holic and espresso-a-holic apparently suffered an embolism during surgery to deal with an “invasive sarcoma.”

But why will we be the poorer for his passing? Because Sergio was a car guy – even if he was an accountant by training. This made him the natural enemy of the Safety Geeks who are ruining the car business by making cars insufferably nannyish. He did not leg hump the fatwas issuing from inside the Beltway. He derided them, openly. “We have no interest in electric cars,” he once said.

Heresy, in today’s car business. God bless him!

But he got away with it because he was a shrewd businessman, above everything else. Sergio knew how to make a buck – and he also knew how to resuscitate and even expand failing brands.

Including, of course, Chrysler – which was near death at the time of its acquisition by the Fiat-Alfa combine, headed by Sergio – after having been milked dry by Daimler, parent company of Mercedes-Benz.

If you like Chryslers – if you venerate the Hellcat, dig the Charger and like your Jeeps – you have Sergio to thank for it.

And also for the return of Fiat (and Alfa) to the U.S. Maybe you don’t like either – but there is no denying they are something different and the U.S. car market could use a lot more of that.

I met him once, at a car press event. Unlike almost all the rest of them Sergio was a straight talker, a no-bullshitter. A mensch. He wasn’t afraid; didn’t parse every word – fearful that a Diversity Shyster might accuse him of something other than metrosexuality. Sergio didn’t think sexuality – however served or practiced – had a got-damned thing to do with cars or the car business, another thing which marked him out as an oddball but only because the times we live in are odd.

He believed cars could be (ought to be) sexy – and he was right about that. Have a look at the current crop of Alfas, for instance.

We have Sergio to thank for this, too.

He didn’t wear suits – on the theory that the car business isn’t the toothpaste business or the insurance business and that being comfortable is as important as having fun. He was as red-headed a stepchild as it gets, a character who was knew the business better than almost all the suit-wearers and Safety Geeks and Diversity Shysters put together.

I will miss him – and if you care about cars and the car guys who make us care about cars, you should, too.

Got a question about cars – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!

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  1. I dunno, Eric- Your article is very convincing; but in my mind, Fiat + Chrysler = proof that Dagos and car-manufacturing don’t mix! 😉

    Now some suit will likely come in and finish off those mediocre-at-best companies.

  2. Hi Eric,

    Though I didn’t know much about him, looking at the cars they were making like the Charger or the SRT / Trackhawk and how they stuck out from everything else being offered by the others…. I did suspect someone up the chain of command did know a thing or two about cars….. Just hope they replace him with a car person… rather than a champion of diversity, PC and green-ness….

    RIP (him, not the cars they are making!!!!)

  3. I’m not sure people realize how rare it is for an auto executive to be both a savvy businessman and a car guy. There’s only been a handful in the history of the business. Sergio was one of them.

    RIP, Sergio.

  4. Something I should not bring up because in no way could anyone prove me a liar, but who in the Hell could make this up?

    It’s the mid eighties….I work for one of the automotive suppliers and we live in the Detroit area. There is one of those must-attend events at Cobo Hall (we called it Cobo Hall at the time) that all suppliers must attend. Some charity crap…have to wear a tux….wife is decked out.

    We’re there…acting like we give a shit…and wife nudges me and whispers “Look at all that dandruff on his shoulders. I think I’m going to puke.”

    It’s Roger Smith. Yes….THAT Roger Smith. One of the most dreadful assholes to ever have been near a car company.

      • Hi Swamp,

        GM especially. And as recently as the ’90s, that company had some solid people at the top or near there…now it’s LBGTQ and XYZ HQ.

      • Ford was incredibly stupid to oust Mark Fields and bring in a civilian from fucking Steelcase. Bill Ford is so drunk on the automation and electrification kool-aid that he made sure he chose his anti-automobile butt buddy to be his puppet.

          • Not a surprise, Jim Hackett destroyed Steelcase too. Don’t ever say that name in front of my cousin, who had sold tens of millions of their office furniture, before being given her walking papers from that a**wipe. He cost 12,000 people their jobs there, and Steelcase’s huge former campus in Michigan, is being redeveloped since its a fraction of the size it once was. They even had to give up their really cool looking pyramid looking HQ.

            • I’ve listened to several of his speeches. He’s ultra-cringeworthy. I still can’t believe he’s in charge of Ford.

              Bill Ford and his pals on the board should have been put out to pasture instead of Mark Fields (who btw is responsible for Mazda’s incredible success story).

            • Steelcase used to make these (really ugly) computer task chairs that were wide enough and heavy enough for a 500 lb guy. I guess those will have gone the way of the Dodo by now, too.

              I bought two of those chairs at a flea market for $20, intending to give them to a broker I dealt with at the time who was big enough to need them. I still have them out in my shop, each of them acting as rolling storage for a few hundred lbs of beads in kilo size boxes.

          • The consequences will be severe for companies that push the real world off to the side to fully embrace those two utopian ideas. Sergio understood that.

            Frankly, I hope it gets worse for them, and it will as their supposedly all-new, exciting vehicles are years away from being on the lots.

            BTW, there’s actually been some speculation about a FCA-Ford merger…..

        • Now they have Anadarko Petroleum transplant Jim Hackett. As someone in the E&P field, I heard a lot that while at APC Hackett had a policy of ‘if its technology, buy it and try it’. He supposedly went on a buying spree of all kinds of edge tech or new software coming out for drilling and production. It did well for them, I guess, as the tower they work in is named after him. But now he’s at it in Ford where its no longer the driving experience but the pad my butt and coddle my ass experience for millene-tards.

  5. I, for one, hope the Ferrari takes the F1 WDC and WCC this season in honor of what Marchionne has done to revamp the team and keep Ferrari at the top of the sport. Paraphrasing, he said two things that caught my attention since he took over FCA – “A Ferrari that doesn’t win isn’t a Ferrari,” and the sweetest one, “We have no interest in electric cars.”

    I’m not a Ferrari fanboy. I’ll never own one, don’t really cheer for them in the racing series I watch, but there is something intrinsically beautiful and stunningly naughty about a bright red car clicking 200mph and Not Giving One Single F**K about fuel economy or airbags or anything. Perfection in the ideology of the automotive purist. RIP, Mr. Marchionne.

  6. That’s the saddest news I have heard in a while. Damn. I like what he did with Fiat and Chrysler. Fiat’s cars are actually worth considering. Having been to an alfa dealer, I like what they have in the showroom a lot better than what the others stick us with. Fiat, unlike the robber barons Germans at Diiiiiiiiamler actually seemed to give a crap about their acquisition. I shuddered with anger when I saw Der Zietche and Bob Eaton (the ultimate sellout) talk about the “merger of equals” and all that globalist tripe talk. Like any mature industry, there is no room for passion in this age. RIP Sergio.

      • You can shudder, too. It’s the adrenaline that accompanies the anger. Fuels the Fight or Flight as appropriate. I shudder and simmer at the same time through most of my interactions with the folks I encounter daily, including the B&C. (I would flee, but for some reason I still love her. Yoked, as appropriate an expression as ever devised by mankind, 58 years and counting.)


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