Ferrari Chief Steps Down After Clash With Fiat CEO

Ferrari Chairman Luca Cordero di Montezemolo resigned after 23 years at the helm of the super-car maker because of a clash over strategy with Sergio Marchionne, chief executive officer of parent Fiat SpA.

Montezemolo, 67, will step down effective Oct. 13, Turin, Italy-based Fiat said today in a statement. Marchionne, who had publicly expressed disappointment with Ferrari’s Formula One performance, will take charge of the unit.

Discussions over Ferrari’s future and its racing potential “led to misunderstandings which became clearly visible over the last weekend,” Marchionne said in the statement. “I want to thank Luca for all he has done for Fiat, for Ferrari and for me personally.”

The Formula One spat masked deeper divides over the future of Ferrari’s role in the group. The Maranello-based company, which is 90 percent-owned by Fiat, is a key component of Marchionne’s plans to expand in luxury cars to better compete with Volkswagen AG, which owns Lamborghini among its stable of high-end nameplates.

Fiat shares rose as much as 3 percent to 7.93 euros and were up 2.2 percent at 9:44 a.m. in Milan trading. The stock has gained 33 percent this year, valuing the company at 9.87 billion euros ($12.8 billion).

Board Seat

Montezemolo, who took charge of Ferrari in 1991, wanted to maintain Ferrari’s autonomous status, including capping sales to about 7,000 cars a year to preserve the brand’s exclusive allure. That clashed with Marchionne’s goal of having Ferrari bolster a shift by the group into upscale cars as part of Fiat’s merger with U.S. unit Chrysler Group LLC.

Montezemolo, who also served as Fiat’s chairman from 2004 to 2010, teamed up with Marchionne after his appointment a decade ago to revive the carmaker from the brink of bankruptcy. The Ferrari chief wasn’t appointed to the new board of the merged entity, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV.

Tensions between Marchionne and Montezemolo were evident last weekend, when the Fiat CEO criticized the recent performance of Ferrari’s Formula One team as “unacceptable.” He also took issue with comments from Montezemolo offering to continue running the brand, adding that “nobody is indispensable.”

During Montezemolo’s tenure, the super-car brand boosted revenue 10-fold as sales more than tripled. Ferrari’s racing team won the Formula One championship in 2000 after a 21-year drought, and then took five consecutive titles under driver Michael Schumacher. The last winning season was in 2008, when it took the award for the top team. Still, Montezemolo bristled at having Ferrari integrated into Fiat Chrysler.

“Ferrari is now American,” which represents “the end of an era,” Montezemolo told close associates last weekend, Il Corriere della Sera reported Sept. 8. Italian newspapers including Il Messaggero reported in the last few weeks that he might be tapped to head Italian airline Alitalia.

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