Critics of Detroit’s carmakers could play a real game of gotcha with Chrysler. News reports today say the company will build the Fiat 500 subcompact at Chrysler’s plant in Toluca, Mexico, which builds the Chrysler PT Cruiser and Dodge Journey. Since Fiat owns 20% of Chrysler, the Italians can call the shots. Critics of the auto industry bailout and the government’s 8% ownership stake in Chrysler might say that we spent a few billion dollars to save Chrysler and guarantee Mexican jobs. But build that car here and the same critics could say that the government and the United Auto Workers, which owns 55% of Chrysler, swayed management to keep the jobs in the U.S.
Forget all of that. Building the 500 in Mexico makes good business sense. First of all, it’s tough to make a buck on compacts and tiny cars like the 500. With the exception of BMW’s Mini brand, those cars just don’t fetch fat sticker prices. So margins are usually thin. Mexican wages can help.