DETROIT -- Few auto industry pundits seem to be taking Sergio Marchionne's awkwardly public pursuit of a merger with General Motors very seriously.
Executives at rival companies sniff privately that the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO's industry-consolidation drumbeat signals desperation. GM CEO Mary Barra couldn't dismiss the idea quickly enough. Even the Wall Street analysts who say it's worth a look are doubtful that he can force GM to the table.
And yet, there must be some reason why the idea keeps resurfacing.
This is at least the third time in the past eight years that executives have kicked the tires on a GM-Chrysler combination. That recent history of flirtation, along with flush equity markets and Marchionne's track record of rare success on a major automotive merger, seem to be enough to keep the idea alive.
With both companies stumbling toward bankruptcy in 2008 and 2009, GM execs were tantalized by an estimated $7 billion in annual cost savings from a Chrysler hookup, then-GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz told Automotive News this month. (That's the same order of magnitude as the roughly $5 billion in synergies that Marchionne said would flow from FCA's combination with "another large OEM," according to a presentation he outlined in April.)
GM and Chrysler have flirted with a merger before. In 2004, above, then-GM CEO Rick Wagoner and then-Chrysler Group CEO Dieter Zetsche announced a joint effort to develop a hybrid propulsion architecture.
'All for it'
GM also was interested in early 2007, when Daimler was looking to end its failed marriage with Chrysler. Lutz said that dalliance included discussions between then-GM CEO Rick Wagoner and Daimler AG CEO Dieter Zetsche. Joint committees examined everything from product planning and platform consolidation to potential plant closures, Lutz said.
The idea was to meld the best of Chrysler and GM, from engineering and purchasing to the legal departments, Lutz said.
"The operating people were all for it because we could see the savings," Lutz said. "We would pick up all that volume, but you wouldn't pick up all of the fixed costs."