This is The Morning Shift, our one-stop daily roundup of all the auto news that's actually important — all in one place at 9:30 AM. Or, you could spend all day waiting for other sites to parse it out to you one story at a time. Isn't your time more important?
1st Gear: And Ferrari, Lancia, Dodge, Jeep, Alfa Romeo...
Yesterday was Fiat Chrysler's big five year plan and, amid references to this very website, was a lot of talk about their actual plans. I thought this was a great model for automakers and they certainly owned the news cycle.
The link above has all the details, but it basically boils down to this: Become an Italo-American Volkswagen Group with multiple brands covering the spectrum of car-buying. Chrysler becomes a mainstream brand, Dodge becomes a 'Murican brand, Alfa Romeo becomes BMW, Maserati gets a range of actual cars, Fiat rationalizes its lineup and expands, Ferrari stays Ferrari, and Jeep continues on its path towards world domination. SRT is dead, but we're actually going to get more SRT products.
It's a "bold move" and, despite occasional doubts about where Chrysler is, if this is where they're going I'm on board. Well done Fiat Chrysler.
But (there's always a but) it's a huge gamble. If the market falls, if the products fail, if consumer tastes change rapidly, if there's a disruption in the energy markets, if there are crazy currency fluctuations, if we go to war with Russia or start a trade war with China. Any of these things, at the wrong time, could sink the company.
And it's worth noting, as those killjoys at the WSJ note, that Fiat reported a loss yesterday:
Fiat Group lost €319 million ($444 million) in the first three months of the year, swinging from a net profit of €31 million for the same period last year. The loss included one-time costs connected to Fiat's payoff of a note held by a United Auto Workers union healthcare trust, and currency turmoil in Venezuela. Without those costs, Fiat said it would have earned €71 million. The group lost money on its mass-market brands in the Americas and in Europe, while it made money in Asia Pacific and worldwide on its luxury brands.
Net revenue rose 12% to €22.1 billion, bolstered by gains in North America and Asia as well as improved sales of the company's Ferrari and Maserati luxury brands. Net industrial debt, which excludes the effects of the buyout of Chrysler in early January, was €10 billion at the end of March, €300 million more than at the end of 2013.
Fiat isn't as wealthy as you think and, one day, the Iron Bank of Braavos might come calling.
2nd Gear: Sergio Ain't Going Nowheres
Don't worry about Sergio, John Elkann made sure to give his homeboy a proper shootout yesterday at the big event saying:
"I am confident Sergio is staying with us," said the 37-year old Elkann, scion of the Agnelli family that is to Fiat what the Ford family is to Ford Motor Co. "We have discussed (succession) but succession is not a topic for now."
I wouldn't abandon him either. He's done well. He has a distinct look. He has 65 Blackeberries. So long as he doesn't screw up, I'd want him in charge of Fiat Chrysler.
3rd Gear: WTF Ferrari?
The weirdest moment from yesterday's presentation? Sergio let everyone know that Ferrari was worth $15 billion and then followed up by insisting that Ferrari was not for sale.
What's weird about that? Besides the fact that I don't think Ferrari actually is worth $15 billion, no one was reporting that Ferrari was for sale.
It's sort of like randomly blurting out "I don't have herpes" to your family at Thanksgiving. Good for you, but no one thought you had herpes and now everyone sort of wonders.
4th Gear: Congress Looking Into Barra
The big question is: Did Mary Barra know more than they've said about the GM Recall? It's an obvious question and Reuters has it that Congress is looking into it.
Harry Truman was the best at creating this kind of committee hunt, and LBJ learned his lesson. Since then, the power of the investigative committee is something to fear, even when they go off on ridiculous hunts.
GM documents, including emails and internal reports released by congressional investigators, show two former Barra lieutenants, Terry Woychowski and Jim Federico, worked with the GM field engineer who ran the internal probe from August 2011 to December 2013.
Documents reviewed by congressional investigators give no indication the two men informed Barra of the probe. But investigators are still struggling to understand GM's complex structure, who made decisions on the probe, and who was accountable for the work.
The congressional committees plan to hold hearings to question attorney Anthony Valukas, who is running a current company investigation into how it handled the switch, and former CEO Dan Akerson, who ran the company during the 2011-2013 probe. Spokespeople for Akerson and Valukas said they declined to comment.
For GM, this gets worse before it gets better.
5th Gear: University Of Michigan Getting Into The Driverless Vehicle Business
While certain investments may seem unnecessary — like whomever put all that money into making hard drives for automobiles right before we all just started storing our music in the cloud — I think the University of Michigan's investment in a driverless vehicle research facility makes sense.
Whatever you feelings about it, driverless vehicles are coming and research is absolutely necessary.
As The Detroit News reports, the $6.4 million simulated urban environment will be a test track unlike any other:
"(This is) not your grandmother's test track," said Peter Sweatman, director of U-M's Transportation Research Institute. "It's a simulation of dense complex urban vehicle operation. It's designed to test connect and automated vehicles and to develop test procedures that will help us get there faster."
The 32-acre simulated environment will integrate the next generation of signalized intersections, building facades, simulated pedestrians and bicyclists, as well as parked cars and buses. Among the partners lined up to back the endeavor are Ford, General Motors, Toyota, Nissan, Bosch, Econolite and Xerox.
Reverse: No Five-Year Plan
On this day in 1998, the German automobile company Daimler-Benz—maker of the world-famous luxury car brand Mercedes-Benz—announces a $36 billion merger with the United States-based Chrysler Corporation.
Neutral: Which Fiat Chrysler Brand Will End Up The Strongest?
You've seen every brand plan, so which one is going to succeed (or succeed the most)?
Photo Credit: Getty Images