In the past few months, the euro has fallen about 15% from the levels it traded at for most of 2013 and early 2014. Normally, American automakers would be hurt by this move, but there is one company that could benefit from the drop in the euro.
When the euro falls, it makes goods from the U.S. more expensive when compared with goods produced in the eurozone. For companies such as General Motors (NYSE:GM) and Ford (NYSE:F), this is a major disadvantage, since it makes their cars more expensive compared with vehicles produced within the eurozone.
However, automakers exporting from Europe see a reverse effect, since their goods become cheaper by comparison in foreign markets. This could provide a boost for automakers such as Volkswagen Group AG (NASDAQOTH:VWAGY) and Daimler AG (NASDAQOTH:DDAIF), which manufacture vehicles for both the eurozone and foreign markets.
Factories in Europe
Today's automotive industry is a global one where even American automakers have significant manufacturing operations overseas. Both General Motors and Ford have several European factories, although the number of European factories these companies operate has declined in recent years because of the slow European auto market.
But the American automaker with the most to gain from the falling euro may be Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (NYSE:FCAU). While not technically an American corporation, the Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, and Ram brands that have provided the majority of the automotive group's revenue are widely seen as American, even if some vehicles are manufactured in foreign nations.
The Fiat Chrysler growth plan
In 2013, Fiat Chrysler set out an ambitious plan to boost profits primarily through growth in sales and through foreign expansion of existing brands. At the core of Fiat Chrysler's plan is the expansion of Jeep to include new models to nearly double total Jeep sales.
And the automaker is using an interesting strategy to get the most out of Fiat Chrysler's factory network. In Italy, the company has underutilized factories, so Fiat Chrysler plans to use this extra capacity to have some of the Jeeps built in Italy. Already, the Jeep Renegade is being built in a factory near Rome to take advantage of unused factory capacity.
But the Fiat Chrysler plan also relies on gains from the group's Italian brands. Fiat brand vehicles have been on U.S. shores for a few years now, and the depreciation of the euro relative to the U.S. dollar should help in making Fiat vehicles more competitive with the small car offerings of American automakers.
To go after the high end of the automotive market, Fiat Chrysler also wants to expand the Alfa Romeo brand and bring it back to the American market. With a weaker euro, new offerings from Alfa Romeo could gain an edge over their rivals produced outside the eurozone.
Since much of Fiat Chrysler's growth plan sits upon boosting sales of vehicles produced in the eurozone, the decline in the value of the euro could provide a boost to the automaker's ambitious plan.
General Motors has also taken notice of the opportunity in European manufacturing for export and is planning to build Buicks for the U.S. market in underutilized Opel factories. Like with Fiat Chrysler, this allows the company to take greater advantage of factory capacity and benefit from a falling euro.
Investors should also be aware that Fiat Chrysler will still face competition from other eurozone automakers such as Volkswagen Group and Daimler, companies that also stand to benefit from a weaker euro. As such, Fiat Chrysler is unlikely to gain an edge over these companies because of the weaker euro and will still face strong competition.
The bottom line
Despite having so many American brands under its corporate umbrella, Fiat Chrysler could actually stand to benefit from a falling euro. With its growth plan calling for production and exports to increase from its Italian factories, a weaker euro could make these vehicles more competitive with vehicles produced outside the eurozone.
Investors should now watch to see whether Fiat Chrysler takes further action to boost Italian factory exports and how well these vehicles sell when reaching the U.S. market.