AUBURN HILLS – The most powerful SUV on the market, the 707 hp Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk. It was the sort of casual comment that many of those listening in on the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles earnings conference call just might have missed, but a single word from FCA Chief Executive Sergio Marchionne could signal some massive changes to come.

For several years, the CEO has made no effort to hide his interest in finding a partner for the smallest of the Detroit-based automakers. During a call with analysts and reporters to discuss FCA’s strong first-quarter earnings Marchionne was asked if his strategy might even include the idea of selling off the company’s crown jewels, the Jeep and Ram brands.

“Yes,” Marchionne said, before moving on to other topics. And, curiously, those on the call let the subject drop without a single follow-up query.

Yet, that one-word answer has raised lots of questions both in and around Fiat Chrysler, the most fundamental being: was he serious? And, if so, what would be left if someone did buy just Jeep and Ram, the two brands that generate a disproportionate share of the automaker’s sales and earnings.

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