Fiat Chrysler and Peugeot maker PSA have reached a binding agreement over their roughly $50 billion merger that will reshape the global car industry.
France's PSA and Italian-American Fiat Chrysler (FCA), which are yet to decide on a name for their new company, will now start work on delivering their pledge to cut costs by 3.7 billion euros ($4.1 billion) a year without closing factories.
That will be all the harder with politicians and strong labour unions in both France and Italy worried about job losses at a combined business that will employ around 400,000 people.
"The merged group will have to make massive savings and probably also close plants, even if the CEOs' choice of words is different," said NordLB autos analyst Frank Schwope after the binding agreement was announced on Wednesday.
French finance minister Bruno Le Maire, meanwhile, welcomed the move to bring together Europe's second and third biggest carmakers, while adding the French government - a key shareholder in PSA - would remain vigilant on matters including where "decision centres" are located within the new group.
PSA and FCA announced preliminary plans six weeks ago for a 50-50 all-share tie-up that will rank as the world's fourth-largest automaker behind Volkswagen, Toyota and the Renault-Nissan alliance.
The deal is aimed at helping both companies cope with slowing autos demand and the cost of building cleaner cars to meeting tougher emissions regulations.
With brands including Jeep, Dodge, Ram, Chrysler, Alfa Romeo, Maserati and Opel, the companies sold a combined 8.7 million vehicles last year, but have potential manufacturing capacity of 14 million, according to forecasters LMC Automotive.
They have yet to say precisely how they plan to tackle that potential excess, and which car platforms - or underlying vehicle structures - they will focus on, only detailing that most production would be concentrated on two platforms.
"At this stage nothing is decided. We have been evaluating what the opportunities are," PSA Chief Executive Carlos Tavares, who will head up the merged entity as CEO, told reporters.
There is no time to lose as both PSA and FCA are "currently lagging far behind the competition in terms of technology and product range," NordLB's Schwope said.
PSA and FCA said in a statement they expected the deal to close in the next 12 to 15 months, and they would come up with a name over the coming months.
FCA said it would meet unions on Friday to discuss the merger.
At 0845 GMT, PSA shares were up 1.2% at 22.37 euros. FCA's stock was up 0.2% at 13.63 euros.
SMOOTHING THE WAY
Before the merger is completed, one of PSA's shareholders, China's Dongfeng Motor Group, will trim its 12.2% stake in the French firm by selling 30.7 million shares to PSA.
That stake was worth 679 million euros ($748 million) at the most recent closing price, and Dongfeng will have 4.5% of the merged group. Its smaller stake is seen as helping the deal gain regulatory approval in the United States.
"This is the way of supporting this merger and making sure we don't have bumps on the road," Tavares said.
PSA and FCA confirmed the new group would have an 11-strong board, with five members nominated by PSA and another five by FCA. These will include labour representatives from both.
Tavares, whose initial five-year term as CEO will begin once the deal has closed and gained all approvals, will have the additional seat on the board.
The companies did not clarify what would happen when Tavares leaves. Two sources close to PSA told Reuters last week that French stakeholders were seeking reassurances they would retain a numerical advantage on the board.
A shock lawsuit by General Motors filed last month against FCA in the United State over alleged union bribing did not affect the merger terms, FCA CEO Mike Manley told reporters, reiterating the claim was "meritless".
Manley said he hoped FCA would "now dispose of that quickly" and if not, the company would defend itself vigorously. ($1 = 0.9073 euros)