Chrysler unlikely to go public in 2012: Marchionne

By Deepa Seetharaman

TRAVERSE CITY, Michigan (Reuters) - An initial public offering of shares in Chrysler Group LLC is unlikely in 2012, Sergio Marchionne, the chief executive of both Chrysler and its controlling shareholder Fiat SpA <FIA.MI>, said on Wednesday.

That represents another delay in the timeline for the potential Chrysler IPO. A stock offering would allow the United Auto Workers' healthcare trust to exit the stake in Chrysler it acquired as part of the automaker's 2009 bankruptcy.

"It's unlikely, that's the best answer I can give you," Marchionne told reporters in response to a question about the possibility of an IPO next year.

Marchionne also said he hoped to stay on as chief executive through 2015 and would groom a successor from within the company's ranks.

Marchionne, who orchestrated Fiat's management takeover of the U.S. automaker, has been the architect of Chrysler's revival after its bankruptcy funded by the Obama administration.

Some auto industry executives and bankers have privately questioned how long Marchionne could sustain an intense, hands-on management style marked by long workdays and frequent flights between Turin and Detroit.

Speaking at an industry conference on Wednesday, Marchionne said he hoped that a merged Chrysler-Fiat would become one of the industry's largest global competitors.

"It's going to be up to the guy after me, after 2015 hopefully," Marchionne said during a question-and-answer session at an industry conference hosted by the Center for Automotive Research. "Maybe a year later, I don't know. I'm 59 now. There's going to be a guy after me, that's for sure."

Marchionne later told reporters he had not intended to stir up "speculation about when I'm going to leave."

"I brought up 2015 as a point of reference," he said. "I technically can go beyond 2015."

The 2015 mark would be a year after Chrysler completes its five-year turnaround plan, which was outlined in November 2009. The plan calls for Fiat and Chrysler to sell a combined 6.6 million cars and trucks by 2014, up from just over 3.6 million in 2010.


Marchionne had earlier said an IPO was planned for the second half of this year. He later said the share offering was more likely in 2012.

Analysts have said the likelihood of an IPO has diminished since Fiat announced it would buy the equity stakes held by the United States and Canada.

Through its healthcare trust, known as the VEBA, the UAW is now the other shareholder in Chrysler with just over 40 percent. The VEBA and the UAW are operated separately.

Last week, Marchionne said there was a "dichotomy" between the valuation Fiat put on VEBA's stake -- just over $3 billion -- and the maximum value the VEBA hopes to get, which now stands at around $5 billion.

Under the bankruptcy agreement, the VEBA can demand a registration of its equity in Chrysler in January 2013. Marchionne said an IPO was unlikely before that date.

"The last thing the VEBA wants is to be a shareholder in a car company," Marchionne said.

Separately, Marchionne said that the tone of Chrysler's contract talks with the UAW union had been "incredibly productive."

A successor to Marchionne will likely come from the newly formed group executive council, a team of 22 Fiat and Chrysler executives that will oversee the integration of the two automakers. The majority of the council is made up executives from Fiat.

"I have always believed that my successor needs to come from the inside," Marchionne said. "This large management where we have 22 people of nine nationalities ... is designed to be a proving ground."

The new team was announced last week, shortly after Fiat took majority ownership of Chrysler. The Italian automaker is on track to own nearly 59 percent of Chrysler by year-end.

Through the council, Fiat and Chrysler will have a more active role in the regions, something Marchionne said has been lacking at both companies so far. Marchionne will still be CEO of both companies and will run the North American region.

"The group executive council is a band of traveling nomads and it has to be," Marchionne said.

"We're entering an interesting phase here at Chrysler because financially ... we're going to see a much better 2012

than we'll see in 2011," Marchionne told reporters. "We need to get all our ducks lined up."

(Reporting by Deepa Seetharaman, editing by Matthew Lewis)