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As U.S. Automakers Struggle, Fiat Seizes Expansion Opportunities

With designs for global expansion, Italian automaker Fiat plans to acquire part of the restructured Chrysler company and is moving to take over GM's European unit. A Business Week reporter explains Fiat's plan.

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    In America, Fiat has not exactly been a household name, especially when compared to Toyota, Honda, or any of Detroit's former big three.

    But as some automakers shrink, consolidate, or deal with bankruptcy, Fiat has global designs of its own. Last week, the Italian company announced plans to acquire up to 35 percent of a restructured Chrysler company.

    And today, Fiat's CEO, Sergio Marchionne, met with German officials about the possibility of taking over G.M.'s main European unit, Opel.

    For a closer look at what Fiat is trying to do and the obstacles ahead, we're joined by David Kiley. He's a senior correspondent who covers the auto industry for BusinessWeek. And he joins us from Ann Arbor, Michigan.

    David Kiley, thank you very much for joining us. Since Americans aren't so familiar with Fiat, remind us, who is this company? What do they make?

  • DAVID KILEY, BusinessWeek:

    Well, they have been the ninth-largest auto company in the world. And unlike a lot of other car companies, which are pretty much in the car business and the financing business, Fiat is a bit of an odd duck.

    They're structured actually a little more like General Electric, believe it or not. They're kind of the G.E. of Italy. They have hundreds of companies under their corporate umbrella, everything from ski resorts to agricultural equipment, and, of course, cars. And the cars represent about half of their revenues.

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