Weekly Recap: Marchionne's Manifesto again calls for industry consolidation

Plus, Notes On: Ford's Q1 Performance, Limited-Run 2015 Shelby GT350 Mustangs, And The Aston DBX

Sergio Marchionne isn't taking no for an answer. Despite public rebuffs from General Motors and Ford, the leader of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles continues to push for consolidation within the auto industry.

His latest assertion came Wednesday when he said a combination of FCA with another automaker could net savings of $5 billion or more annually. No, this isn't about selling his company, he claimed, it's about cutting costs.

Put simply, the auto industry wastes money, Marchionne said during FCA's earnings conference call. Companies invest billions to develop basic components that all cars use, but many consumers don't care how they work or recognize the differences.

"About half of this is really relevant in terms of positioning the car in the marketplace," he said. "The other half, in our view, is stuff which is neither visible to the consumer nor is it relevant to the consumer."

In 2014, top automakers spent more than $100 million on product development, FCA estimated. Marchionne said consolidation could save up to $1 billion on powertrains alone, noting that almost every automaker offers four- and six-cylinder engines. Not everyone has to make their own, he contended.

"The consumer could not give a flying leap whose engines we are using because they are irrelevant to the buying decision."

That's pretty provocative for enthusiasts, but less so for average consumers. Still, there are major differences in power and efficiency ratings, even among similar engines. Skeptics could argue consolidation would also weaken competition and reduce choices for car buyers.

Marchionne stressed his presentation, curiously entitled Confessions of a Capital Junkie, wouldn't require closing factories or dealerships. It's not his final "big deal" as CEO, intent to sell FCA, or a way to elevate his company up the automotive food chain. He claims he wants to fundamentally change the industry and its habit for burning cash.

"The horrible part about this, and the thing that I find most offensive, is that the capital consumption rate is duplicative," he said. "It doesn't deliver real value to the consumer and it is in its purest form, economic waste."

Other News & Notes

Ford Blue OvalFord Profits dip in first quarter

Ford profits fell $65 million to $924 million in the first quarter, hampered by slight dips in revenue and sales. Ford blamed the declines on new product launches that don't have full dealer inventories yet – especially the F-150 – and the effect of the strong US dollar in international markets. Higher tax rates in the quarter also weighed down net income. Despite the drops, the automaker again confirmed its 2015 earnings guidance and expects to make a pretax profit between $8.5 and $9.5 billion.

The optimism is based on expected contributions from the F-150, redesigned Edge crossover and a dozen other new product launches scheduled for this year. "We expect results in North America to improve substantially over the balance of the year," Ford CFO Bob Shanks said in a conference call.

The announcement pleased analysts, who pointed to the company's continued strength in North America, though the automaker missed its projections in other global markets. "Given the magnitude of changeover activity at the company [F-150] we believe the results may be seen as a relief by the market," Morgan Stanley wrote in a note to investors. "A better-than-expected outcome in NA with higher margin guidance should be a source of comfort to investors despite concerns overseas."

Ford Shelby Mustang GT350R Ford to produce limited run of 2015 Shelby GT350, GT350R Mustangs

Meanwhile, in more exciting Ford news, the company announced it will build a short run of 137 total copies of the Shelby GT350 and GT350R Mustangs. It will be comprised of 100 GT350s and 37 track-focused (but street legal) GT350Rs. The run marks the 50th anniversary of the legendary nameplate, and the cars will come with a unique VIN.

The Shelby GT350 runs Ford's first production V8 that uses a flat-plane crankshaft. This naturally-aspirated mill displaces 5.2 liters and pumps out more than 500 horsepower. Ford will equip half of the GT350s with the track package and half with the technology package.

The GT350R's run of 37 Mustangs is a salute to the late Carroll Shelby, who claimed to have built 37 for competition in 1965, with 35 production models and two prototypes. Only 34 received serial numbers, adding an element of mystery to the first race-bred GT350s.

While Ford is building a short supply for the 2015 model year – the caveat is the '15 model year is almost over, and 2016 run will likely begin soon. A spokesperson would not offer any more details.

Aston Martin DBX Aston Martin secures cash for crossover

Aston Martin said this week that it has lined up more than $300 million to fund production of a vehicle based on the DBX crossover concept. The DBX debuted at the Geneva Motor Show and would expand Aston's lineup beyond its traditional base of sports cars (and the four-door Rapide). While Aston named the DBX in its announcement, CEO Andy Palmer also indicated it could be used for other models to round out the British automaker's portfolio.

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