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Auto blogThu, 28 Mar 2013
For more than two years, Volkswagen has been making public statements about its willingness to buy Alfa Romeo and quadruple the Italian brand's sales, and for just as long, Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne has replied with some version of "Mr. Piëch, drop it." According to a report in Ward's Auto, all that jousting might be over: it claims that sources close to both Marchionne and Audi CEO Rupert Stadler admit that the two are in talks for Audi to buy not just Alfa Romeo, but a production plant in Italy. In fact, a final deal could possibly include partsmaker Magnetti Marelli.
Against that backdrop, a report by German news weekly Stern quotes a Fiat spokesmen as saying it doesn't comment on rumors and an Audi rep has said flatly that "There is no substance in the news." If a sale is being arranged, the timing would seem to point to how eager Fiat is to raise cash to complete its major initiatives. Even though Alfa Romeo continues to delay its return to the US, it just showed off the production version of the 4C at the Geneva Motor Show (shown above) and said that preferred Fiat dealerships here would get them. Then there's Alfa's recently concluded deal with Mazda to develop a roadster based on the next generation MX-5 Miata - a deal that would seem to help both the Italian and Japanese brands.
The monetary issues are troublesome, though. Fiat is taking a beating in the European market and its weak-kneed balance sheet is delaying gotta-have-it products like the Jeep Cherokee. Fiat has been talking to banks about getting money to buy the rest of Chrysler and those financial institutions have also raised issues about debt and cash reserves, and the nasty game of chess Fiat is playing with the United Auto Workers (and now the court system about the portion of Chrysler it doesn't own) could end up blowing another hole in Marchionne's plans. It is possible that this could finally have convinced Fiat to at least see how serious Audi's parent company, Volkswagen, is about buying Alfa Romeo. Or it could be just another rumor.
It's a good time to be in the luxury car business. In Volkswagen Group's financial report for the 2013 fiscal year, it is revealed that that Porsche enjoyed an operating margin of 18 percent. That means the Stuttgart brand made on average about $23,200 per car sold, according to BusinessWeek. Bentley wasn't far behind, and Audi (which was combined with Lamborghini) posted a 10.1 percent margin. This compares to only around 2.9 percent for the Volkswagen brand.
"Luxury brands are on fire," said Dave Sullivan, an industry analyst at AutoPacific. He said that the average profit margin is between six and eight percent. Brands like Porsche and Bentley have the benefit of competing in rarefied markets. Buyers looking at one their vehicles have fewer models to shop against and don't care as much about price. They can also charge more for options, which further boosts income, according to BusinessWeek.
In a way, we should be more impressed by the continued success from Audi. Its models generally have direct competitors in every segment from the other premium automakers. Plus, their buyers aren't the captains of industry who are shopping for a Bentley. Still, the Four Rings is leading rivals in sales so far this year.
We've returned from a very busy week in Switzerland, and in going back over all of our 75 stories from the Geneva Motor Show, our editors have gathered up their personal favorite debuts from the European expo.
The wonderful thing about the Geneva show is just how wide of an array of vehicles are on display - everything from funny little one-off EVs to the most exotic of supercars to, well, truly ridiculous displays of coachbuilding. And because of that, this list of our editors' favorites might not be as predictable as you think.
But we don't want to give anything away just yet. Scroll down to have a look at our team's favorites from Geneva.