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.
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