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Fiat CEO Sees Suzuki, Mazda As Partners

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Preston Waters

Fiat SpA is still open to partnerships to help stop European losses but isn’t actively looking for them, and sees Japan’s Mazda Motor Corp. and Suzuki Motor Corp. as compatible partners for Asia, where strong growth sharply contrasts with the company’s traditional European market.

“We’re not looking, but we are open [to offers],” Chief Executive Sergio Marchionne told reporters at a roundtable discussion held at the Geneva Motor Show. “We talk to everyone,” he added.

Marchionne had spoke of Fiat’s availability for a partnership in Europe before PSA Peugeot-Citroen SA and General Motors Co GM -4.50% announced a broad alliance last week to try to shore up their respective European car operations.

News of the alliance between GM and Peugeot has left analysts wondering about the options that remain for Fiat in Europe, where the company lost EUR500 million at the operational level last year, when excluding its luxury brands Ferrari and Maserati. Fiat aims to break-even by 2014.

“All [auto makers] could join Fiat to help it in Europe,” he said in response to a question about possible partners in the region. “As long as there are no antitrust issues, all are acceptable as partners.”

Marchionne declined to identify any candidates, but did say that Germany’s Volkswagen AG wouldn’t be compatible.

He also said the Peugeot-GM alliance wouldn’t prevent Fiat from making deals with either of them in the future. Nor did the alliance jeopardize the joint venture Fiat has with PSA Peugeot-Citroen to make vans, though it has “complicated” the situation as far as the various scenarios available to Fiat in Europe.

Nearly every mass-market manufacturer loses money in Europe. Not only is the market brutally competitive, but sales have been falling since the sovereign debt crisis scared consumers from making any big-ticket purchases. This has left manufacturers with a production overcapacity of an estimated 20%.

Fiat was previously seen by some analysts and investors as a likely candidate for a strategic alliance with PSA Peugeot-Citroen, and the Italian auto maker had once offered to join forces with GM’s Adam Opel division after it had taken control of Chrysler Group LLC in the U.S.

Suzuki has also often been cited by analysts as a partner that could help Fiat expand in Asia, but the Japanese auto maker is currently in a dispute with Volkswagen AG , the German car giant that has a significant stake in Suzuki.

Fiat has a joint venture with Tata Motors Ltd. TTM -4.54% in India and another in China with Guangzhou Automobile Group Co .

Marchionne said Suzuki and Mazda would be good partners for Fiat because their operations would complement those of the Italian auto maker.

Apart from closing plants in Europe, Marchionne said the only other way for auto makers to resolve the problem of overcapacity in the region was to export what those plants produced. Fiat plans to export a new family car called the 500L to the U.S. from a plant in Serbia in 2013. In addition, a new SUV for the Jeep brand will be exported from Italy to the U.S.

Marchionne said the capacity issue was manageable for Fiat at its plants in Italy.

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Preston Waters

Preston Waters

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