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Fiat Chrysler CEO’s Just Challenged Tesla’s Elon Musk

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Sergio Marchionne, CEO of Fiat Chrysler AutomobilesPhotograph by Andrew Burton — Getty Images

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne raised serious doubts about whether Tesla can turn a profit selling its newly unveiled Model 3 electric car for $35,000.

That car, which has received 400,000 advanced orders since being introduced last month, is Tesla’s push beyond its roots in luxury cars and into the mass market. While the Model 3 may be a big seller, Marchionne isn’t convinced that it will be a big money maker for Tesla CEO Elon Musk after it starts shipping in 2017.

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If (Musk) “can show me that the car will be profitable at that price, I will copy the formula, add the Italian design flair and get it to the market within 12 months,” Marchionne told an Automotive News Europe reporter on the sidelines on FCA’s annual meeting in Amsterdam on Friday.

His comments, while snarky, do foretell what may happen if Tesla’s push into the mass market gains momentum—and profits. Bigger companies like FCA will be hot on its heels to copy that success, undermining Tesla in the process.

For the record, Marchionne once urged people against buying his own company’s electric car. The reason: It was unprofitable.