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December 18, 2019 10:15 AM, EST

Fiat Chrysler, Peugeot Sign Deal for 50-50 Merger

Fiat logo on vehicleAntonio Calanni/AP

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MILAN — The boards of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and PSA Peugeot on Dec. 18 signed a binding merger deal creating the world’s fourth-largest automaker with the scale to confront the challenges of stricter emissions regulations and the transition to new driving technologies.

The companies said in a joint statement the new group will be led by PSA’s cost-cutting CEO Carlos Tavares, with Fiat Chrysler’s chairman John Elkann as head of the board of the merged group. Fiat Chrysler CEO Mike Manley will stay on, though it was unclear in what capacity.

No name for the new company has been decided, executives said, but both Tavares and Manley insisted it was not a “touchy subject.”

The deal, which was first unveiled in October, was billed as a 50-50 merger, but PSA has one extra seat on the board and Tavares at the helm, giving the French carmaker the upper hand in daily management.

The executives said they expect the deal to take 12-15 months to close. It will create a company with revenue of nearly 170 billion euros (nearly $190 billion) and producing 8.7 million cars a year — just behind Volkswagen, the Renault-Nissan alliance and Toyota.

The merger is expected to yield 3.7 billion euros in savings a year, which will be invested in “the new era of sustainable mobility’’ and to meet strict new emissions regulations, particularly in Europe.

“’The merged entity will maneuver with speed and efficiency in an automotive industry undergoing rapid and fundamental changes,’’ the companies said in their statement.

The new technologies include electrified engines, autonomous driving and connectivity, part of what Tavares described as ‘’the transition to a world of clean, safe and sustainable mobility.’’

No plants will be closed under the deal, the companies said. Savings will be achieved by sharing investments in vehicle platforms, engines and new technology, while leveraging scale on purchasing.

Peugeot logo

Peugeot logo by Thibault Camus/AP

But the executives also said there would be cuts. Decisions on where those will come will be made after the deal closes.

“There is room for sharing [a] significant amount of existing platforms and avoiding excess investments for the future,” Tavares said.

Fiat Chrysler shares rose nearly 1% in Milan, while Peugeot gained almost 2% in Paris trading.

Both the Peugeot and Fiat brands are strong on small car technology, with significant overlap in Europe. Manley said that the convergence of platforms would be “an early target’’ that will likely take two years to achieve.

Nick Oliver, a management professor at the University of Edinburgh Business School, said that most of the savings are likely to come from cost cuts as “it is not clear how the merger will boost joint revenues.’’

“Neither partner has products that can easily be sold under the others’ brands in new or existing markets. Both are weak in China, the world’s largest car market, while their center of gravity is in the mature European market,’’ Oliver said.

The company will be legally based in the Netherlands, and traded in Paris, Milan and New York.

The executives played down the significance of the new entity’s name and headquarters location, but both are symbolic choices that go a long way to signaling who is in the driver’s seat, where engineering and management brains will be based, and the relative importance of each entity in the new company.

The French and Italian governments as well as unions will be on the lookout for the responses, given the national significance of carmaking to both economies. The French government helped bail out PSA Peugeot in 2014 and owns a 12% stake in the French company through the state investment bank.

While the merger of Fiat and Chrysler has been a success, with the Italian-American automaker thriving on the strength of the U.S. market and the executive prowess of longtime CEO Sergio Marchionne, the history of car mergers is littered with failed tie-ups. Most famous among those is the short-lived Daimler-Chrysler merger, which foundered on cultural differences between the German and U.S. entities.

The new company will start with a strong base in Europe, where PSA is the second-largest carmaker, while Fiat makes most of its profits in North America and has a strong presence in Latin America. It will be looking to strengthen its position in China, where both companies lag.

“That is part of the opportunities,’’ Tavares said. “We are not happy with our performance there. We think we should be doing better in China.’’

Tavares said the deal has the support of its Chinese partner and investor Dongfeng, which “understood what needed to be done.’’

As part of the deal, Dongfeng’s stake in the new company will be diluted from 6.2% to 4.5% through the sale of 30.7 million shares.

Fiat Chrysler will pay its shareholders a 5.5 billion-euro ($6.1 billion) premium, raising questions about whether the new company will be saddled with too much debt. Analysts estimate that Peugeot is paying a hefty 32% premium to take control of Fiat Chrysler.

Fiat Chrysler has long been looking for an industrial partner to shoulder investment costs as the industry faces a transition to electrified powertrains and autonomous driving. A previous deal with French rival Renault last spring fell apart over French government concerns about the role of Renault’s Japanese partner, Nissan.

Tavares said both the French government and unions backed the new deal from the beginning.

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire issued a written statement calling it “very good news for France, for Europe and for our auto industry. It represents an important step in the creation of a European champion ... to face the challenge of sustainable mobility.”

He said the government would monitor the location of decision-making centers, and to ensure that the new company preserves French jobs and confirm PSA’s commitment to creating a European battery industry.

Italy’s economy and finance minister, Roberto Gualtieri, likewise welcomed the deal, saying it “was a fundamental step in the consolidation of the car industry.’’

Charlton reported from Paris.

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