From: Reuters
Published May 27, 2008 02:12 PM

Fiat says could see North America return in six months

TURIN, Italy (Reuters) - Italy's Fiat <FIA.MI> could decide in six months when and where it will start making and selling cars under its Alfa Romeo brand in North America, its chief executive said on Tuesday.

"The commitment is there (to find a way into the market), and it could even happen that we make a decision in the next six months," he told reporters after receiving an honorary degree from a university in Turin, home to Fiat.

Marchionne said he aimed to start making the cars in North America between 2010 and 2011.

He also said Fiat should be able to defend its market share in its home market despite an expected drop in sales this month, reiterating a forecast that he made last week.

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"This month's volumes for the Italian car market are not good," he said. "We expect quite a fall.

"We can see that the market is spent. Not only for cars but for all products," he said, adding that Fiat as a group was doing fine nevertheless.

Fiat has been able to control about a third of the market this year despite the weak trend.

Italy's transport ministry will publish the new car registrations figures for May next week.

Fiat's return to North America comes after a successful restructuring of the group, led by Marchionne.

It has been in talks with a number of parties about bringing the brand back to that region, including government representatives and officials from the auto industry.

Over the weekend, the head of Alfa Romeo, Luca De Meo, told a German magazine that Fiat had spoken with U.S. rival Chrysler <CBS.UL>.

"The door is open," Marchionne told the reporters. "We're talking about everything with everybody.

"There are big opportunities. (For Fiat) it's a matter of choice. Everybody wants us," he said.

The move would save money for Fiat, as European exporters suffer from the euro's strength against the dollar.

It would also help automakers in the region that have been forced to reduce production at their plants due to a drop in sales.

Fiat has a presence in the market -- albeit small -- through its luxury brands Ferrari and Maserati, and a limited edition car by Alfa Romeo called the 8C Competizione.

(Reporting by Gianni Montani; writing by Gilles Castonguay, editing by Will Waterman)

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