Steve Rattner, who was head of the presidential task force on the auto industry, sat across from Marchionne at the bargaining table during the height of the economic crisis. Rattner believes that Chrysler's demise could have cost 300,000 American jobs up and down the industrial supply chain.
Steve Kroft: Was he a tough negotiator?
Steve Rattner: Brutally tough, yeah. He-- but that's part of why he's successful.
In the end, Marchionne and Fiat got a 20 percent stake in the brand new, slimmed down, debt free Chrysler plus a $6 billion high interest loan from the U.S. Treasury, just for taking the auto company off the government's hands and running it. He used the $6 billion to modernize Chrysler plants with state of the art equipment to improve quality, upgraded 16 existing models in just 18 months, and began integrating Chrysler and Fiat's operations.
Steve Kroft: Obviously, you saw something in Chrysler that you thought would fit well with Fiat?
Sergio Marchionne: From a product standpoint, they were the other half of the coin. When you put the two together, we were going to come out with a product portfolio that was absolutely complete.
Chrysler's best assets were its Jeeps, minivans, and light trucks. Fiat's expertise was in small car technology and fuel-efficient engines, the very thing that Chrysler lacked. And next month, the first product of that collaboration will begin rolling off the assembly line in Belvidere, Illinois.
Sergio Marchionne: This car didn't even exist on paper in June of 2009.
It's the Dodge Dart, the first new compact sedan that Chrysler has produced in more than a decade. It's a slightly longer and wider version of the Alfa Romeo Giulietta, re-engineered and built in the USA. Base price just under $16,000 with 40 miles to the gallon.
Steve Kroft: How important is this car to Chrysler?
Sergio Marchionne: If you are a serious carmaker and you can't make it into a segment-- it-- it-- you're doomed.
Steve Kroft: It's got a little Italian flair?
Sergio Marchionne: Yeah. Just enough to make it interesting, and it avoids all the pitfalls of being Italian, yeah?
Steve Kroft: Mechanically, it's good?
Sergio Marchionne: Mechanically, it's outstanding.
Under Marchionne the quality of both Fiats and Chrysler products have improved dramatically, according to Consumer Reports. Now Marchionne needs to convince the public.
Sergio Marchionne: We got it. We fixed it. This car has nothing to apologize to, I mean for anything.
The Darts produced at the Belvidere plant are not just for U.S. consumption, Marchionne plans to begin exporting them to more than 60 countries. When he took over Chrysler in 2009 this plant had 200 workers by the end of summer there will be 4,500.
Steve Kroft: What do you think of American workers?
Marchionne: I think the world of American workers. What happened here at Chrysler would have been impossible without the commitment that they've shown. Absolutely impossible. When I was looking at this deal back in 2009, I snuck into Jefferson, our plant that now makes the Grand Cherokee. And, I'll tell you if I had any reservations about doing this deal, it was after I saw the state of that plant. And the people that fixed that plant are the guys on the shop floor.