Fiat plays down headquarters fears, denies tax motives

Elkann says big groups need many bases

Fiat plays down headquarters fears, denies tax motives

(By Paul Virgo) (see related story on Elkann) Rome, May 24 - Fiat Chairman John Elkann on Friday denied that the carmaker or its sister company Fiat Industrial wanted to avoid taxes and played down the importance of the groups' headquarters. There was alarm in Italy this week after truck-and-agricultural-vehicles-producer Fiat Industrial said it planned to move its legal headquarters to Britain after completing a merger with tractor unit CNH Global NV. There is also speculation that Fiat, the carmaker, could move its headquarters to the United States once it completes a planned merger with Chrysler. Media reports said Fiat Industrial's plan to change headquarters was dictated by tax considerations. Britain is lowering its corporate tax rates, making it a more appealing head office location for firms such as Fiat Industrial, which paid 564 million euros in taxes to Italian authorities last year. Elkann, an Agnelli family heir who is a board member of Fiat Industrial as well as being the number one at Fiat, said the media coverage was off the mark. "Organisations like ours do not have one headquarters, but many," Elkann said. "We have a major market in Europe managed from (Fiat's base) Turin, we have an important one in North America managed from (Chrysler's base) Detriot, one in South America managed from Belo Horizonte and one in Asia managed from Shanghai. "The more you keep going, the less sense the concept of the headquarters has. Organisations need lots of headquarters. "We have activities all over the world where we do well, we make profits and we pay taxes. No one has ever wanted to avoid them". At the start of 2011 the Fiat group spun off Fiat Industrial to hold its non-automotive activities, which include the production of trucks, commercial vehicles and buses, under the Iveco marque, as well as the non-automotive sector of its Powertrain subsidiary that develops engines and transmissions. The issue of Fiat's headquarters is delicate as unions fear the carmaker is tempted to retreat from its homeland, amid slack sales on the crisis-hit Italian and European car markets. Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne, who has also led Chrysler since it emerged from bankruptcy in 2009 under Fiat's majority ownership, has said the carmaker is committed to Italy and will not close any plants here. But Marchionne has also frequently complained about the resistance he has encountered from the left-wing FIOM union in efforts to introduce new, more flexible working contracts and practices to boost the productivity and competitiveness of Fiat's Italian factories.

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