Sergio Marchionne, the man who engineered a historic merger between Fiat and Chrysler to rescue the Detroit automaker from financial collapse, died Wednesday in Switzerland. He was 66.
Marchionne died after complications from surgery last week. On Saturday, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles quickly replaced him as CEO with Mike Manley, who most recently led Jeep and Ram brands, when it was clear that Marchionne wouldn’t recover. Marchionne is survived by his sons Alessio and Tyler, and his longtime partner Manuella Battezzato.
During his tenure Marchionne was plainspoken and blunt about many topics, including electric cars. He famously dissuaded people from purchasing the electric Fiat 500e, which is sold in California as a “compliance car.”
“I hope you don’t buy it,” he said in 2014, shortly after the car debuted. “Every time I sell one it costs me $14,000.” (The 500e, with 84 miles of electric range, sells for $33,990 before tax credits, though Fiat leased a lot of them for $199 a month.)
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“Unfortunately, what we feared has come to pass. Sergio Marchionne, man and friend, is gone,” John Elkann, grandson of former Fiat CEO Gianni Agnelli and chairman of Fiat’s parent company Exor, said in a statement.
2013 Fiat 500e electric car, Los Angeles drive event, April 2013
A Canadian born in Italy, Marchionne was known as a chain-smoking workaholic among many in the automotive industry. Trained as a lawyer and an accountant, he worked first in finance and as a tax consultant before he was plucked from a Swiss trading firm to work at Fiat. Battered by sagging revenues and skyrocketing costs, Marchionne helped turn Fiat around.
After taking the reins of Fiat in 2004, Marchionne famously unwound a partnership with General Motors and got GM to pay $2 billion for the privilege.
With that money, he turned Fiat into Europe’s fastest-growing automaker and developed a range of models for sale worldwide.
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He reintroduced the Fiat, Alfa Romeo, and Maserati brands to the U.S. and turned Ferrari into the fastest-growing maker of sports cars, even introducing hybrids to the brand.
In 2009, he negotiated with the U.S. government to take over bankrupt Chrysler Corp.—for free—and merged it with Fiat.
In June, FCA announced it had paid back its sizeable industrial debt and would focus on crossovers, SUVs, and trucks to stay profitable.