On a flight from Los Angeles to Portland yesterday, I sat near actor Sam Elliott, he of “Ghost Rider” and “We Were Soldiers” fame. I thought that was pretty cool, but quickly forgot about Mr. Elliott when I noticed that my seat-mate looked an awful lot like Sergio Marchionne.
I couldn’t figure out why the FIAT/Chrysler CEO would be on a commercial flight, much less sitting all the way back in seat 27E, but there were a few moments there when I was sure I’d struck car-blog gold and would have two hours of Sergio to myself.
Upon further review and a few awkward questions, I discovered that the Italian man in the sweater was not Mr. Marchionne, but rather a perfectly friendly engineer on his way to see his new baby granddaughter in Oregon. Dang-it.
Had I been fortunate enough to sit next to the real Sergio, there are some questions I would have loved to ask him.
Aside from the obvious question of asking why he wasn’t on a private jet, there are three things I’d love to pry from the mind of one the greatest auto executives of our time:
1. Chrysler invented the minivan. Isn’t time for you to re-invent it?
The 700C concept from last year’s Detroit Auto Show seems like a great way to revolutionize the stale minivan. Maybe get that B-pillar pointing the right direction… but why not bring something new to the minivan market before Honda or Toyota does?
2. Will we actually see more FIAT cars, and the return of the Alfa Romeo brand, in the U.S. market, or do you just hope to use the platforms for new Chrysler/Dodge products?
The new Dodge Dart seems like a pretty good argument for the latter.
3. How will Chrysler meet the government’s 54.5-mpg requirement by 2025? Chrysler isn’t known for its hybrids—can that number be reached with combustion engines?
As a believer in turbos and diesels, I believe 50+ mpg is achievable in certain vehicles, but as a fleet average it’s hard to imagine getting there without the help of electricity.
If you could sit next to any automotive CEO on a plane, who would it be and what would you ask?