Italy's premier slams Stellantis over reduced Italian footprint since Peugeot-FiatChrysler tie-up

MILAN (AP) — Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni slammed carmaker Stellantis, accusing it of weakening Italy’s industrial footprint since the merger of FiatChrysler and PSA Peugeot that created the world’s fourth largest auto maker.

As one of Italy’s top private sector employers, Fiat and its successors, FiatChrysler and then Stellantis, have always gotten government attention, but rarely have premiers been so pointed in their comments. Meloni also characterized the merger that created Stellantis in 2021 as a French takeover.

“We want to return to making 1 million vehicles a year with whomever wants to invest in the historic Italian excellence,’’ she said in a speech to parliament Wednesday.

Meloni cited figures that motor vehicle production in Italy had dropped from 1 million in 2017 to under 700,000 in 2022 and that Stellantis had slashed 7,000 jobs since the merger.

“If you want to sell cars on the international market advertised as Italian jewels then these cars need to be produced in Italy,'' Meloni said.

Stellantis CEO Carlos Tavares, who was visiting a plant in Abruzzo, told reporters that he didn’t think the company's Italian workers would appreciate Meloni’s characterizations.

“We have more than 40,000 workers in Italy who work very hard to adapt the company to the new reality, as decided by politicians, and they are full of talent,’’ he said.

The carmaker said production in Italy grew by nearly 10% last year to 752,000 vehicles, two-thirds of which were exported, “contributing to the Italian trade balance.” Stellantis said it has invested several billion euros in Italian operations for new products and production sites in recent years.

Automotive industry expert Franceso Zirpoli said annual car production in Italy fell from 2 million two decades ago to about 800,000 before the pandemic, despite the goal of the late former FiatChrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne of creating a luxury pole in Italy producing 1.4 million cars a year.

FiatChrysler instead started looking for a European partner, putting a hold on new investments, which only weakened Turin’s claim to remain a research and development center after the merger in 2021, he said.

“It was evident that the technological heart of Europe could not be Turin, it had to be Paris,’’ said Zirpoli, director of the Center for Automotive and Mobility Innovation at Venice’s Ca’ Foscari University.

Without the anchor of research and development activities “you can easily move production from one place to another, and Italy became just one other place where you can locate production,” he said.

Zirpoli said the key for any government that wants to boost production is to make Italy an attractive place to invest.

While Meloni touted Italy's automotive “jewels,” such as Fiat, Maserati and Alfa Romeo, Zirpoli noted that most of the 474,000 Stellantis vehicles produced in Italy last year for export bore the U.S. brand Jeep nameplate — not the group's storied Italian brands.