When it comes to auto executives who hate electric cars, Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne is at the top of the list. Having spent many years dismissing electric vehicles as pointless, expensive distractions, Marchionne is in vocal opposition to California’s zero emission mandate, which requires automakers to produce a specific number of zero emission vehicles in order to sell its cars there.
Last year Marchionne went one step further, famously begging customers not to buy Fiat’s all-electric 500e compliance car, complaining that it lost his company money every time one was sold. “I hope you don’t buy it because every time I sell one it cost me $14,000,” he had said. “I’m honest enough to tell you that.”
Fast forward one year, and the Italian CEO seems to have mellowed a little on electric cars, enough at least to enable him to visit Tesla Motors [NASDAQ:TSLA] headquarters in California and meet with Tesla CEO Elon Musk.
“I’m incredibly impressed with what that kid has done”Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne
According to Reuters, Marchionne discussed a recent trip to Silicon Valley on the sidelines of the opening of a new Maserati dealership near Toronto, Canada, describing a trip which took in Tesla, Google and Apple.
“I’m incredibly impressed with what that kid has done,” said Marchionne of Tesla’s Billionaire CEO Elon Musk. While he declined to comment on the content of his meetings, we note meetings between Tesla and other auto industry executives have been relatively few and far between when compared to auto-industry norm for regular cross-company collaboration.
If we were to speculate, we’d suggest Marchionne may have been discussing options with Tesla for building future limited-production compliance cars using Tesla-engineered drivetrains and battery packs as a way to reduce the overall cost of meeting California’s ZEV mandates. Given Tesla has previously entered into such agreements with both Toyota and Daimler, we know this particular future engineering relationship is at least plausible. With no firm facts to back this up however, it’s nothing more than pure speculation.
Moving on to Google, Marchionne is said to have ridden in one of Google’s prototype self-driving cars, presumably with an interest in understanding what Google has managed to achieve thus far in its long-running self-driving car program. While Marchionne’s visit with Google doesn’t necessarily mean a tie up between Google and Fiat Chrysler is on the cards, it certainly can’t be discounted. Unlike other automakers, Fiat Chrysler has yet to invest heavily in either plug-in or autonomous drive technologies, so Marchionne’s meetings with both Google and Tesla could be an attempt to remedy that fact.
Yet there could also be another reason for Marchionne’s visit to Google and Apple: in-car technology.
Talking of his meeting with Apple CEO Tim Cook, Marchionne said that “he’s interested in Apple’s intervention in the car, that’s his role,” but did not deal with any more specifics. For some time now, Apple has been rumored to be developing its own electric self-driving car, but has yet to confirm or deny those rumors. More openly, the tech company has been working hard to encourage automaker to integrate its iOS operating system with their cars via CarPlay, a wireless-streaming technology designed to allow its iPhones to assume control of vehicle infotainment systems.
Google also offers a competing technology for its Android OS devices: Android Auto.
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