Fiat CEO will not close Italian factories - press
MILAN (Reuters) - Fiat (FIA.MI) Chief Executive Sergio Marchionne said the Italian automaker will not close any of its six Italian factories despite a plunging domestic car market, responding to calls for clarity about Fiat's future investment plans.
Marchionne defended his decision to delay Italian investment on new car models, which has come under renewed criticism in recent days. Fiat has spent 1 billion euros ($1.3 billion) on opening a second factory in Turin, where it is making new high-end Maseratis, he said, and 800 million on its plant near Naples.
Marchionne has come under pressure to provide details of Fiat's strategy in Italy as the economic recession heightens concerns over possible job losses at the country's biggest private employer.
The industry and labour ministers have said they want to meet Marchionne for talks.
The executive, who shuttles back and forth between Detroit, where he manages Chrysler, and Fiat's headquarters in Turin, told Rome daily La Repubblica the company was committed to maintaining operations in Italy.
"We're in a dramatic situation here, and I've never talked about plant closures, I've never said I wanted to leave," he said. "I can assure you that it's a huge responsibility to make these choices today."
He added that the company spent 800 million euros developing a new version of its Panda compact car "but it isn't selling, because there is no market". Europe's car sales fell 8.5 percent in August, as demand in southern Europe slumped. Ford (F.N) and General Motors (GM.N) are considering factory cuts in the region.
Fiat has been forced to idle its factories in Italy, where car sales have fallen back to levels not seen in 40 years. The company is expected to continue to temporarily halt production off and on throughout the fall, union sources told Reuters last week.
Marchionne did not discuss financial or market targets in the two-page interview, except to say that the car market in Italy next year will "be very, very bad".
He said his business strategy was to exploit the strong car market in the United States in order to "protect the presence of Fiat in Italy and Europe" where the company has accumulated losses of 700 million euros so far this year.
Italian unions say Marchionne should meet with government ministers to reveal his investment plans.
"If, as all signs indicate, Fiat is oriented towards cutting production (in Italy), then (the government) should ask itself how to attract another manufacturer," said CGIL union leader Susanna Camusso in an interview with L'Unita' newspaper. ($1=0.7612 euros) (Reporting by Jennifer Clark, additional reporting Steve Scherer; Editing by Mike Nesbit)
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