Italian auto giant Fiat said Thursday its net profit in the first quarter soared ten-fold to 379 million euros ($500 million) thanks to its US partner Chrysler, without which it would be in the red.
The group had banked 37 million euros in profit in the first quarter last year -- before snapping up a majority stake in the US automaker in a move which has more than offset poor Fiat results in a sluggish European market.
Chrysler, which fell under Fiat's operational command in June 2009 when it emerged from a government-supported bankruptcy, reported its own four-fold leap in first quarter profit on Thursday to $473 million (357 million euros).
"Chrysler is firing on all cylinders. I have really no bad news to share with you," Sergio Marchionne, chief of both Fiat and Chrysler, said in a conference call.
Built on sales gains that surpassed the industry average, Chrysler's results set an "incredible foundation for 2013," Marchionne said, adding "most of our plants now are being tasked to the max."
However, Marchionne said he has no immediate plans to launch an initial public stock offering for the third largest US carmaker.
"It is unlikely it is a 2012 event if it is an event at all," Marchionne said.
Without the US carmaker, Fiat would have suffered a net loss of 272 million euros on the first three months of the year, the group said in a statement.
"Strong performance in Chrysler offset the effects of lower volumes for Fiat in Europe," it said, though the Italian company performed well in North Africa, Latin America and the Asia Pacific region.
"Revenues and profitability reflect generally positive trading conditions across regions with the exception of EMEA (Europe, Middle East, Africa), where conditions were in further decline," Fiat said in a statement.
In Europe "trading conditions continued to remain weak for both passenger cars and light commercial vehicles, particularly in Italy, with Fiat production and deliveries being additionally affected by protracted car hauler strikes."
Fiat confirmed its targets for 2012 despite the difficulties in Europe.
The auto giant forecast for the whole of 2012 a net profit of between 1.2 billion and 1.5 billion euros, a trading profit of between 2.8 and 4.5 billion euros and sales of more than 77 billion euros.
Earlier this month Marchionne said Fiat would start production in China in the coming months and in Russia in 2013 -- and could increase its stake in Chrysler to 61.8 percent this year.
The partnership with Chrysler has allowed the Italian giant to face volatility in the market more serenely and enables the two companies together to search for new markets outside crisis-hit Europe, he said.
Fiat and Chrysler, whose full merger is expected by 2015, aim to become a unified auto giant with joint production of six million vehicles a year by 2014.
The financial crisis sweeping Europe has also affected the results of French autogiants PSA Peugeot Citroen and Renault, both of which published a drop in sales for the first quarter as business in European markets worsens.
PSA Peugeot Citroen posted a 7.0 percent drop in sales in the first quarter, while its rival Renault saw sales down 8.6 percent on the same period in 2011.
Both carmakers were also hit hard by the end of government cash-for-clunker schemes that saved the European auto market after the financial crisis of 2008.