How Fiat S.p.A. and Chrysler Will Change Ferrari

How do you raise profits without increasing sales? Here's how.

May 20, 2014 at 6:33PM

Ferrari

Ferrari's F12 Berlinetta is the latest in a long line of 12-cylinder Ferrari models that reaches back to the 1940s. Will Fiat Chrysler change Ferrari's winning (and profitable) formula? Source: Fiat Chrysler

On May 5, senior executives at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (NASDAQOTH:FIATY) spent a full day briefing analysts and media on the company's plans for the next five years.

This is a big deal. Newly merged FCA's global product portfolio is currently a messy mash-up, with many areas of overlap -- and several important market segments where the company has no strong offerings at present.

This plan is CEO Sergio Marchionne's road map for changing that. If it's successful. FCA will be transformed into a thriving, competitive, substantially more profitable global automaker.

But that's a big "if." The plan is ambitious and expensive, and FCA is not exactly rolling in cash at the moment. There are reasons to be optimistic, though, starting with this: Marchionne's last five-year plan was also seen as overly ambitious -- but Fiat and Chrysler largely delivered on its goals.

I recently outlined the whole plan and summed up how it will affect each of FCA's brands. Since then, I've been going into more detail on FCA's plans for each of its brands, taking a closer look at the products, strategies, and expansions that the company plans to put in place over the next five years.

Last week I talked about FCA's plans to take Jeep to new markets around the world, to make Chrysler a mainstream American brand built around the all-new 200 sedan, and to emphasize high performance at Dodge in an attempt to win younger buyers. Now we're switching gears: In this video, I explain what FCA has in store for what is arguably the greatest automotive brand of all -- Ferrari.

A transcript of the video is below.

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John Rosevear: Hey Fools, it's John Rosevear, senior auto specialist for Fool.com. Last week, the newly merged company that will be called Fiat Chrysler Automobiles revealed its five-year plan. It's an interesting, ambitious plan that -- if it works -- will take FCA, as we're calling them, to 7 million sales a year by 2018. There are a lot of moving parts to this plan, and they spent a full day last week going through it brand by brand.

Now, FCA owns a whole bunch of automotive brands, all the old Chrysler brands as well as Fiat's brands, but at the top of the heap is what is arguably the greatest automotive brand of them all, Ferrari. Ferrari founder Enzo Ferrari sold half of the Ferrari company to Fiat in 1969, basically he was preparing to retire, though he was active with Ferrari's racing team until his death in 1988. After he died, Fiat ended up with a 90% stake in Ferrari, so Fiat has control, but Fiat has essentially let Ferrari do its thing.

Ferrari sold 7,124 road cars in 2013, we say "road cars" because Ferrari also builds racing cars in small quantities, and it made 364 million euros in operating profit, pre-tax profit, with a 15.6% operating margin. That's not quite as good as Porsche's 18% last year, but it's better than just about any other brand in the global auto business.

So with FCA's other brands we've seen big plans to increase sales around the world with new models and pushes into new markets and so forth. So what's the plan for Ferrari over the next five years?

Well, Ferrari's going to launch a new model every year, they're going to keep building what we think of as Ferraris -- high-end, high-performance cars with eight- and 12-cylinder engines... They'll do periodic special models aimed at high-end customers, they'll keep pushing their personalization program, basically you can customize almost anything on a Ferrari that won't affect safety or emissions, but they charge a whole lot of money for the privilege, and that's a nice source of profits for them.

But sales aren't going to go up: Ferrari sold about 7,000 cars last year and they plan to sell about 7,000 cars in 2018, too. Ferrari has decided to cap its production in order to preserve exclusivity.

Now, as the number of high-net-worth people in the world continues to expand, as there are more and more people in the Ferrari-buying wealth brackets in places like China and other markets that are still emerging, one imagines that demand for Ferraris will go up, if the supply remains fixed then it's reasonable to guess that prices and profits will go up, especially as they push the more extensive customization options.

In the presentation last week, FCA's CEO Sergio Marchionne said that Ferrari's profit margins will be, and I quote, "in excess of 15% by 2018", but he didn't give a target. He did also say very clearly that Ferrari is not for sale. So, long story short, FCA may have big plans for some of its other brands over the next few years, but the plan is for Ferrari to keep doing what it has been doing. Thanks for watching.

John Rosevear has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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