Fiat Chrysler's CEO just issued a dire warning for traditional automakers

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles reported fourth-quarter earnings in Wednesday.

The news reinforced the automaker’s success with its pickup trucks and SUVs, especially in the booming US market.

Trucks and SUVs are the old-school of car-building — but they don’t run on electricity, they don’t drive themselves, and they’re designed to be owned, not shared.

In a call with analysts after FCA reported, Rod Lasche of Deutsche Bank asked CEO Sergio Marchionne one of the biggest questions floating around the auto industry: Will new ways of getting around, including autonomous vehicles, car-sharing, and ride-hailing services, end traditional automakers’ 100-year dominance of mobility?

“It is contemplated in the plan,” Marchionne said, referring to set of objectives FCA has established for 2018.

But he added quickly that industry participants and analysts should be cautious about overthinking new mobility paradigms — then he offered a prediction.

“All the things that have been discussed by other industry participants will materialise,” he said, referring to self-driving cars, electrification, and the arrival of disruptive new players, such as Uber.

Marchionne doesn’t shy away from sweeping announcements about the car business, but he masked a dire warning with judicious language.

“The relevance of automaker will not be as key,” he said.

Google selfdrivingcarGoogleDo driver required. No brand, either?

“What is the value of a brand in the presence of autonomous driving, if it isn’t the driver that exercises control?” he added. “These are unknown issues.”

This type of question comes up often on analysts’ conference calls to review Tesla earnings. However, over the past year, we’ve heard them directed at traditional auto executives, too.

Unlike General Motors’ CEO Mary Barra, Marchionne isn’t pitching FCA as a technology company, although he insisted on the call that FCA is investing an appropriate amount to keep pace with industry changes.

And he stressed that the traditional car business isn’t “facing an impending demise,” expressing his disagreement with a sprawling assessment of the industry recently published by Sanford Bernstein analyst Max Warburton, cheerily titled “The End of an Era.”

But, again, Marchionne has been something of a lone-wolf CEO in the industry of late, arguing forcefully that carmakers spend too much money on duplicate technologies and that there should be global consolidation. In fact, he’s less worried that Uber and Apple and Google will put the traditional car makers out of business — and more worried that they will do themselves in.

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