A takeover by a Chinese company may not be the best thing that could happen to Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, but it certainly would not be the worst.
In the current atmosphere of xenophobia, there will probably be noise about one of the Detroit 3 — a bailout-ee no less — being "lost" to the Chinese. But the old Chrysler stopped being a national treasure long ago. Its owners are Italians. Before them came Germans, unions and aliens from the planet Private Equity. And none of them stuck around long enough to forge a vision for the future.
Their legacy is a collection of long-in-the-tooth platforms, Fiats force-fed to indifferent dealers, a shabby safety record and an electrification strategy that amounts to a 12-volt socket in the dash. Plus some fine Jeeps, pickups and minivans.
So, yes, the Chinese deserve a chance, and not just because the bar has been set so low. It's because the Chinese may have what it takes to vault FCA forward after decades of stagnation: money and the vision to know what to do with it.
The Chinese have a unique window into the future of the auto industry because they will be the ones to shape it. As the U.S. becomes more preoccupied with "winning" than leading, China is stepping up, rallying its industries and the world to develop sustainable transportation solutions and fight climate change. By a quick show of hands, it can lead 1.5 billion people or more toward a zero-emission future.
A clear test case is Volvo, rejuvenated and re-imagined under Chinese ownership. It committed to four-cylinder engines and then to an all-electrified fleet. It brought the first Chinese-made vehicle sold in the U.S., created a division dedicated to high-performance EVs and continues to advance autonomous technology. Under Geely, Volvo is winning and leading again.
What would FCA look like as a leader? We'd hardly recognize it. But the prospect is too tempting to dismiss.