Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (NYSE:FCAU) reported a 59% increase in first-quarter net income, on a 7% increase in global shipments paced by a big jump in sales of Jeep SUVs.

The raw numbers

FCA reports its financial results in euros. As of April 26, 1 euro = about $1.21.

Metric Q1 2018 Year-Over-Year Change
Revenue 27.027 billion  (2%)
Vehicles shipped 1,151,000 7%
Adjusted earnings before interest and tax (adjusted EBIT) 1.611 billion  5%
Adjusted EBIT margin 6% 0.5 ppts
Net profit 1.021 billion  59%

Data source: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. FCA's expression of "adjusted EBIT" excludes one-time items from the standard calculations. Vehicles shipped include totals from FCA's joint ventures with Chinese automakers and are rounded to the nearest thousand. Ppts = percentage points.

Metric March 31, 2018 December 31, 2017
Debt 16.242 billion 17.921 billion
Available liquidity 19.394 billion 20.377 billion
Net industrial debt 1.313 billion 2.390 billion

Data source: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. "Available liquidity" is the total of cash and credit lines available to FCA's automaking business. "Net industrial debt" is total debt, minus available liquidity, minus debt related to FCA's financial-services unit.

The big story: Margin

FCA has struggled for several years to generate EBIT margins comparable to those of its old Detroit rivals. Both Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F) and General Motors (NYSE:GM) have made hay over the last few years, thanks to strong sales of pickups and SUVs. Both categories have long been FCA strengths, but the Italian-American company has had to do a lot of work to make the most of its Jeeps and Rams.

A silver 2019 Ram 1500, a full-size pickup truck.

Production of the all-new 2019 Ram 1500 pickup began shortly before the end of the first quarter, FCA said. Image source: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

Now, much of that work is done, and the results are plainly visible. FCA's adjusted-EBIT margin of 6% was up 0.5 percentage points from a year ago, and it solidly beat rival Ford's 4.4% result. Ford is restructuring in China and working on an extensive overhaul of its North American product lineup; it has warned that its margins may be thin for a while.

FCA still has a ways to go to catch GM, though. GM's first-quarter adjusted-EBIT margin of 7.2% handily beat FCA's -- though it was low for GM, which is in the midst of complicated revamps of its pickup-truck factories and lost some 30,000 units of truck production in the quarter. 

How FCA's business units fared in the first quarter of 2018

Note that FCA reports all profit and loss figures for its individual business units on an adjusted-EBIT basis.

NAFTA: FCA's North American business unit earned 1.23 billion euros ($1.49 billion) in the first quarter, down 2% from the first quarter of 2017. FCA has been working to reduce its lower-margin sales to rental-car fleets; its overall U.S. market share fell 20 basis points to 12.3% in the quarter, but its retail share rose 30 basis points to 12%, helped by strong demand for the all-new Jeep Wrangler and Compass SUVs.

The change in retail versus fleet mix helped boost the region's adjusted-EBIT margin to 7.4% from 7.3% a year ago.

LATAM: FCA's Latin American unit earned 74 million euros in the quarter, improved from a loss of 20 million euros a year earlier. Revenue rose 13% on strong demand for the all-new Fiat Argo and Cronos.

APAC: FCA's Asia, Pacific, and China unit earned 10 million euros in the first quarter, down from 21 million euros a year ago. A dip in shipments from FCA's Chinese joint venture, costs related to the launch of the Alfa Romeo brand in the region, and negative exchange-rate effects weighed on results.

EMEA: FCA's Europe, Middle East, and Africa unit earned 182 million euros, up 2% from a year ago. In Europe, FCA lost a bit of market share in passenger cars as Fiat sales slipped 9%, but it gained ground in light commercial vehicles, in SUVs with Jeep (sales up 42%), and with Alfa Romeo.

Maserati: FCA reports results for its luxury Maserati brand on a global basis. In the first quarter, Maserati earned 86 million euros (down 20% from a year ago) on shipments of about 9,400 vehicles (down 21%). The story is simple: The initial rush of demand for Maserati's Levante SUV has subsided somewhat.

Components: FCA's components subsidiaries, Comau, Teksid, and Magneti Marelli, together earned 118 million euros, flat from a year ago, as sales gains for all three businesses were offset by unfavorable exchange-rate effects. The unit's margin of 4.8% improved by 10 basis points form a year ago. Earlier this month, FCA announced that it will spin off Magneti Marelli; that is expected to be completed by the end of 2018 or early in 2019.

A red 2018 Jeep Wrangler, an off-road SUV, on a rocky hillside.

The all-new Jeep Wrangler has been well-received by enthusiasts. Early sales have been strong. Image source: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

Looking ahead: FCA confirmed 2018 guidance

FCA confirmed its prior guidance for the full year. It still expects: 

  • Net revenue of roughly 125 billion euros. (2017: 110.9 billion euros.)
  • Adjusted EBIT of at least 8.7 billion euros. (2017: 7.05 billion euros.)
  • Adjusted net profit around 5 billion euros. (2017: 3.51 billion.)
  • Net industrial cash (rather than debt) of around 4 billion euros. (Year-end 2017: Net industrial debt of 2.39 billion.)

In a nutshell, FCA expects strong year-over-year gains driven by several all-new products, including an all-new Ram pickup, as well as the the new Jeep Compass and Wrangler launched last year.