Fiat Tries To Take The Wheel In Detroit

In this July 5, 2007 file photo, Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne poses near the new Fiat 500, during the official presentation in Turin, Italy.
AP Photo/Antonio Calanni

A week after Fiat joined hands with Chrysler, the Italian automaker is looking to buy GM's European operations and its Opel brand - a move that could make it the world's fourth largest car company.

"Right now, they're bargain shopping. Let's face it," analyst Jack Nerad told CBS News correspondent Anthony Mason.

Nerad says it's the new survival strategy.

"To play in this game in the future car companies are feeling they have to be global or they're not a player at all," he said.

Only five years ago, Fiat itself was on the brink of bankruptcy. But new CEO Sergio Marchionne engineered a stunning turnaround. As car sales slid across Europe in March, Fiat's sales were up almost 15 percent.

"Fiat has demonstrated that it can build the clean, fuel-efficient cars that are the future of the industry," President Obama said.

But international mergers can be tricky and Chrysler's previous marriage ended in divorce after Daimler, the German automaker, lost billions. Now its Fiat's turn to try to understand the American customer.

"That was Daimler's failing with Chrysler," Nerad said. "They didn't really get the North American market. They didn't get what the Chrysler brand stood for."

In Europe Fiat has been using an American actor to sell its cars. But as the commercials point out, when you buy a Fiat "George Clooney is not included."

For now, Ferrari and Maserati are the only Fiat-owned brands sold in the U.S. The Italian automaker pulled out of the American market in the early 1980's, when some buyers joked that Fiat stood for "fix it again, Tony."

But Fiat still has its fans here, like Bobb Rayner, who's owned nine of the cars. As head of the largest Fiat fan club in the country, he likes to quote his favorite auto writer: "...who said the Germans invented the automobile, the Americans turned it into a disposable item, but the Italians taught it how to dance and sing."

If its bold expansion strategy is going to work, Fiat will need to give Detroit some dancing lessons.