By Eric J. Lyman
ROME, Sept. 18 (Xinhua) -- The very public battle between two of Italy's most important and high profile companies continued in recent days, with the head of luxury shoemaker Tod's blasting carmaker Fiat for what he said was a lack of commitment to Italy.
The war of words between Diego Della Valle from Tod's, and Fiat chief executive Sergio Marchionne was sparked by statements from Fiat that the company's domestic business plan would be constantly under review because of the impacts of the country's economic crisis, which has eroded Italian car sales to their lowest levels in 40 years.
"Marchionne and company have gone beyond all expectations, and they have been able, with just a short statement, to cancel important commitments taken with their workers, the government and the country," Della Valle said in a statement e-mailed to journalists. "The true problems of Fiat are not its workers, Italy or the crisis, but its main shareholders and its chief executive."
Fiat's press officers did not comment on Della Valle's statements, though Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, head of Fiat subsidiary Ferrari, was quoted in the Italian press as calling Della Valle's comments "unacceptable."
Though many saw the exchanges as simple bickering between two of Italy's economic heavyweights, many economic analysts said the situation could also be seen as a sign of jitters over the coming months in Italy, including an increasing tax burden, lackluster economic growth, volatility on debt markets, and what could emerge as a bruising political season before Italians go to the polls to select a new prime minister.
"The country's business elite are getting nervous about what might happen in Italy in the coming months and in those situations, sometimes it's easy to point a finger," said Angelo Ritti, a political and economic commentator with Rome Tre University.
Marco Avila, an analyst with ABS Securities in Milan, agreed."It is always tempting to look at other companies you feel could be doing more," Avila said.
To be sure, Fiat has many options beyond Italy's border. The company now controls U.S.-based carmaker Chrysler and is set to deepen its roots in the world's largest car market. And even putting the U.S. aside, recent years have seen Eastern Europe and Brazil emerge as more important markets for Fiat than Italy.
Avila said it is easy to understand why the company may choose to focus resources on other markets, where credit markets are more liquid, economic growth more robust, and the political situation more stable.
Italy's political situation has been fairly stable in recent months, under the technocrat government led by Prime Minister Mario Monti, who took over in November and helped the country's banks from the brink of falling victim to the European debt crisis. But to do that, he had to cut back on government spending and increase tax revenue. And Monti's mandate is set to expire next year.
It is possible Monti could run for prime minister, but to do so, he'll have to face a list of populist challengers including Silvio Berlusconi, the billionaire media tycoon he replaced as prime minister.
Berlusconi has already been weighing in on political issues, in recent days calling for Monti to lower taxes. If political concerns force Monti to backtrack on some of his reforms, it could hurt the business climate in the medium term.
Already, Monti's government said it shares Della Valle's concerns about Fiat's plans for domestic investment plans. Corrado Passera, Italy's Minister of Industry, has said he would ask Fiat to clarify its plans for new investments in Italy. But no matter what Fiat's response, it's not clear how much power Passera has to make the company change.