Ferrari’s Fearless Leader Will Resign After Conflict With Fiat

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After more than two decades on the job, Ferrari’s head honcho, Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, will be resigning his post with the high-performance automaker on October 13 after it became public that there were tensions between di Montezemolo and Fiat SpA CEO Sergio Marchionne. Fiat, which owns the Chrysler Group family of brands, also owns nearly 90 percent of Ferrari, which di Montezemolo has led for 23 years.

Marchionne will step in to fill di Montezemolo’s shoes for the time being, at least until a more permanent solution is reached. The Fiat head has recently criticized Ferrari’s Formula 1 racing performance, which has lagged relative to Ferrari’s once dominant standards. In a statement, Marchionne said that the two were at odds over Ferrari’s future and its racing potential, which ultimately “led to misunderstandings which became clearly visible over the last weekend,” he noted. “I want to thank Luca for all he has done for Fiat, for Ferrari and for me personally.”

For Fiat, Marchionne sees Ferrari as a valuable tool to combat Volkswagen’s Lamborghini, as well as Aston Martin and other high-performance niche brands. Lamborghini has looked to grow its identity past supercars and into high-end SUVs or sedans, and Aston has done the same. Di Montezemolo maintains that Ferrari’s production should remain capped at about 7,000 units per year in order to protect the brand’s exclusivity.

It’s this approach that has made di Montezemolo’s tenure at Ferrari so successful. Under his command, revenue has increased tenfold, and sales have more than tripled since di Montezemolo took office in 1991. Ferrari took the Formula 1 championship in 2000, ending a 21-year dry spell, followed by five more in a row as ace driver Michael Schumacher continued to dominate again and again. The last championship with Ferrari’s name on it was in 2008.

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“Ferrari is now American,” which represents “the end of an era,” Montezemolo told close associates last weekend, Il Corriere della Sera reported Monday, cited by Bloomberg. Di Montezemolo has never been pleased with having Ferrari integrated into Fiat Chrysler, according to the publication.

Di Montezemolo oversaw the production of such greats as the Ferrari F50, the Ferrari Enzo, and most recently, the Ferrari LaFerrari, the brand’s first hybrid. Also under his care was the Ferrari FF, the first all-wheel drive car from the brand, as well as many others, including the F430 and the 458 Italia. His resignation on October 13 coincides with the same day that Fiat’s stock goes live on the New York Stock Exchange and comes just after he vocalized intentions of leaving the company.

What happened behind closed doors is really anyone’s guess, but di Montezemolo and Marchionne — who have for the most part been able to operate fairly distantly from one another — seem to have run their course with Ferrari’s struggles in Formula 1, providing the catalyst for di Montezemolo’s departure.

“Ferrari will have an important role to play within the FCA Group in the upcoming flotation on Wall Street. This will open up a new and different phase which I feel should be spearheaded by the CEO of the Group,” di Montezemolo said in a statement. “This is the end of an era and so I have decided to leave my position as Chairman after almost 23 marvelous and unforgettable years in addition to those spent at Enzo Ferrari’s side in the 1970s.”