Anyone following the news around Fiat Chrysler recently would probably give the auto-giant a dim outlook for the future (I certainly did). But FCA has made a strong showing, with a 69 percent profit increase for the second quarter of 2015, posting a figure of $367.9 million (333 million euros) compared to last year’s $217.6 million. 

Part of the increase is due to fluctuating exchange rates, with dollars from U.S. sales worth more now than they were in 2014. The solid results are also partly attributed to the strength of North American operations, where FCA’s operating margin improved to 7.7 percent.

Revenue for the quarter came in at $32.26 billion, a $6.5 billion increase over last year. For the first six months of 2015, revenues grew to $60.7 billion compared to $49.7 billion last year. FCA’s net profit for the first half of 2015 rose substantially, coming in at $464 million compared to last year’s $26 million. Adjusted earnings before income taxes were $1.685 billion, an increase of $615.2 million, or 58 percent.

FCA moved 1.193 million units in the last quarter, up 12,000 units over the same time period last year. A total of 2.288 million units shipped for the first half of 2015, down slightly from 2.294 million seen in the first half of last year. 

Coinciding with the good news, FCA raised its full-year revenue forecast from 108 billion euros to 110 billion euros ($121.11 billion), with worldwide shipments expected to close out 2015 at 4.8 million units. 

FCA’s European sales rose 12 percent. North American sales rose 8 percent thanks to models like the 2015 Jeep Renegade and the new 2015 Chrysler 200. With North America expected to continue its strong performance, net profits are forecast between 1 and 1.2 billion euros ($1.1 and $1.32 billion), 

Investors responded in kind, with FCA’s shares rising 5.2 percent on Thursday.

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Why it matters

While FCA supporters are sure to be relieved by this strong showing, it should be put into perspective. First, the net earnings are indeed a marked improvement over last year’s performance – that much is for sure. But next to the other big makes, $367.9 million is pretty low. By comparison, Volkswagen AG posted $2.8 billion, Ford Motor Company posted $1.9 billion, Nissan posted $1.2 billion and General Motors posted $1.1 billion.

First, the net earnings are indeed a marked improvement over last year’s performance – that much is for sure. But next to the other big makes, $367.9 million is pretty low.

What’s more, this spot of good news comes amid a torrent of discouraging reports.

Back in June, The New York Times made public an email sent by FCA boss Sergio Marchionne to G.M.’s boss Mary Barra in which Marchionne laid out a proposal for a merger between the two makes. While Marchionne has been transparent in his push for consolidation, labeling the waste of overlapping development costs as “immoral,” this proposal was perceived as a sign of weakness, and consequently, investors got cold feet.

This coincided with the revelation that FCA purposefully delayed the redesign or release of at least 12 current or new vehicles in North America as it searched for a new partner. Last-minute design and engineering changes were also tagged as an explanation, but either way, the delays were associated with some of FCA’s most critical North American models.

Next came the revelation that hackers had managed to find an exploit in the UConnect infotainment system of a 2014 Jeep Cherokee that allowed them to do things like remotely control the stereo, wipers, engine, transmission and steering. FCA promptly issued a recall of 1.4 million vehicles.

All told, FCA still looks to be in a tough spot, but at least its showing signs of life.

But it doesn’t end there. FCA recently reached an agreement with safety regulators to hand over more than $100 million dollars in penalties for failing to act quickly enough on nearly two-dozen previous recalls. FCA also agreed to buyback Ram pickups equipped with faulty steering components and offer trade-in discounts to owners of other recalled Jeep models.

The buyback potentially includes 585,000 trucks, but FCA says it has repaired 410,000 of those affected, leaving 175,000 models eligible for a buyback. FCA Sergio Marchionne said the buyback wouldn’t exceed $20 million.

However, FCA is still facing monumental debt, and would potentially opt for a merger if it found the right partner.

To prepare for this, FCA is offering a 10 percent stake in Ferrari, one of FCA’s most prestigious brands, on the open market. The float would also raise some much-needed capital.

All told, FCA still looks to be in a tough spot, but at least its showing signs of life. I expect the company to gobble up another make soon, which will hopefully help it stay above water. After all, both Fiat and Chrysler were saved when Marchionne engineered the creation of FCA last year, so why wouldn’t it work again?

Plenty of standout models look to support FCA, such as the sexy new Alfa Romeo Giulia and the monstrous 2015 Dodge Challenger Hellcat. But the question remains – will it be enough?

Source: Automobilemag

Jonathan Lopez
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