-- Sergio Marchionne, chief executive of Fiat SpA and Chrysler Group LLC, said he hasn't made any decision about where the combined automaker will be headquartered.
"The item is not on my agenda for now. Secondly, we've been clear and consistent on this: That this will be governed by a variety of justifications including access to capital markets and the ability to finance the house, which is the consistent view," Marchionne said Thursday night in a Detroit News interview after he was honored at the Sons of Italy gala here. "There's been no decision -- it's not even on my digestible list of things to do for the week."
The Obama administration tapped Fiat in 2009 to run Chrysler after the Auburn Hills automaker was rescued as part of a $12.5 billion federal bailout and restructured through bankruptcy. Fiat initially received a 20 percent stake in Chrysler and won 15 percentage points for meeting three targets; it has since increased its stake in Chrysler to 58.5 percent. Fiat is in court sparring with the United Auto Workers health care trust fund over the value of the trust's stake. Fiat wants to acquire the trust's remaining 41.5 percent stake and could launch an IPO.
Last week, Bloomberg News quoted three unidentified officials saying that Turin, Italy-based Fiat was considering moving its headquarters to the United States. The story prompted outcry in Italy.
Asked if he could decide on a headquarters for the combined company this year, Marchionne responded: "That's a different story. You are now trying to pin me on a time frame and the answer is I don't know. I mean, there are a number of things that we resolved in a very short period of time. This may surface anytime in the next 24 months."
Marchionne said some recent press reports were "speculation," but conceded the automaker could end up as a U.S. company.
"I don't have any news. I understand your concerns. " he said. "We haven't even discussed it in the sense of the issue being on the agenda, mine, the board's or the shareholders. Until we get there, you can speculate on a lot of things -- it's possible, that I can tell you."
Marchionne was honored Thursday alongside several others including Gen. Colin Powell and actor Gary Sinise.
Marchionne told the audience about the effort to merge the two automakers and the "need for cultural integration based on mutual respect."
"Neither Fiat nor Chrysler have been dealt the best of hands in the last 10 years, but our people took on the challenge," he said. "They are working side by side to create a global car company that draws its strength from being multinational, from being multi-ethnic."
Marchionne regularly flies across the Atlantic to work at Fiat and Chrysler headquarters. He has made as many as three transatlantic trips in a single week. "I believe that the tightest possible bond between Fiat and Chrysler is crucial for this integration to be successful," Marchionne said. "This kind of relationship is the only way to ensure that the geographic barriers crossed in forming this partnership don't turn into cultural barriers through jealously or nationalism."
Marchionne was grounded Thursday in Oakland County because of bad weather and arrived at the black-tie dinner at the National Building Museum a few minutes before he was scheduled to speak. In typical fashion, he skipped the formalwear and described himself as an "ever-wandering black-sweater-wearing global metal-basher."