Well, the fat lady done sung. Only it was a thin president who ended TTAC’s Chrysler Suicide Watch. Lucky for us (if no one else), the Prez also promised to keep the dead automaker alive, through a fresh injection of federal funds. Obama didn’t specify the price tag for this zombification, but the bidding starts with the familiar “b” word, and octo-mom would recognize the number. As you know, Obama justified his ongoing intervention in Chrysler’s journey to liquidation by pimping the un-dead (now dead) American automaker to Italy’s own automotive English patient. So it’s time to get on with the business of tearing the Fiat “merger” idea to shreds. In this unenviable (but gainful) task, I’m aided by Jennifer Clark of the Dow Jones News Service. Jenny’s Chrysler-on-the-block piece arrives under the odd title “Chrysler Chapter 11 Filing May Aid Fiat Turnaround.” Go figure.
Miss Clark’s analysis begins with some Detroit News-like cheerleading from a hand-picked optimist. “A Chrysler bankruptcy filing could be a wonderful opportunity for Fiat,” said Jerry Reisman, a bankruptcy lawyer at Reisman, Peirez & Reisman, who predicts a speedy procedure. “All of Chrysler’s debt will be dealt with in court, so Fiat will know exactly what it’s buying. It will be a new Chrysler.”
It’s a shame Reisman wasn’t my divorce lawyer. Or, conversely, it’s a blessing. The Chrysler C11 case will involve hundreds of Chrysler creditors. Thousands of Chrysler dealers. Dozens of Chrysler debt holders. And they’ll all be represented by Reisman’s colleagues AND hamstrung by a building full of megalomaniacal bureaucrats. Reisman’s faith that a bankruptcy judge will sort this Fiat-finagled farrago in short order is almost as delusional as Chrysler’s initial hopes for the Sebring.
And the clock is ticking. “How will the company keep going for 18 or 24 months until the new product is brought to market?” asked Mark Fulthorpe, director of European vehicle forecast at CSM Worldwide. “They can’t rely on the U.S. government.” Silly me; I thought that was the whole point. But point taken. Even if Chrysler’s new boss opts for a short-term “solution” to the automaker’s glaring lack of commercially appealing products—say, by slapping a Chrysler badge on an imported Fiat—the federalization process required is neither cheap nor fast.
If, heaven forfend, the Presidential Task on Automobiles (PTFOA) bullies the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to relax its rules on product safety, Chrysler would still be SOL (shit out of luck). The move would open the way for Ford to bring over its Euro-models, which would slaughter Fiat’s models in the market.
Or not. There is no proof that anyone’s European models would do well in the US and plenty of indication that the exact opposite is true (Merkur much?) Otherwise, plan B (or plan A as it’s called) calls for retooling American factories to build Fiats. Huh? Why not just improve current Chrysler models? If American automakers should have learned one thing from this debacle, it’s that the constant pursuit of the next big thing puts an automaker on a hiding to nowhere.
And then there are the cultural problems. Let’s assume that the PTFOA is calling the shots at post-C11 Chrysler (only because it is). So now they have to ming with Fiat. And Chrysler’s new CEO (to be named later). And the United Auto Workers. Let’s also assume they can all work together in perfect harmony. Quickly, efficiently and, above all, profitably. And while we’re at it, let’s assume that someone makes a non-fat, low-calorie ice cream that tastes better than Häagen-Dazs ice cream for, I dunno, half the price. Yum.
Funny thing about Häagen-Dazs: it’s a made-up name created by two Polish immigrants in the Bronx. But the branding is killer. As is Chrysler’s, only in the literal sense of the word. Even with Barack Obama personally guaranteeing Chrysler’s warranties, the automaker’s Chapter 11 is the kiss of death. On a corpse, if we’re going down the icky route.
I know: I recommended a ChryCo C11 at the start of the old series. Well, as any S.E. Hinton fan will tell you, that was then, this is now. Now that Detroit has used up all its goodwill by sucking up seemingly endless (’cause they are) subsidies, the stench of bankruptcy is overpowering. If buyers avoided Chrysler like the plague before, they will now avoid the Auburn Hills zombie like Ebola. Which, coincidentally, ends with a vowel, Italian style.
Counterpoint! ”Carlos Ghosn proves it can be done: Ghosn is chief executive of France’s Renault SA and alliance partner Nissan Motor Co. of Japan.” Yes and no. Ghosn brought Nissan back to life, but he didn’t do it by selling rebadged (or retooled) Renaults in the US market. He did it the hard way, through evolution, over time. And Nissan still got slammed by the economic meltdown.
Nope. Chrysler is an evolutionary dead end, a walking zombie waiting for the marketplace to blow its head off. And TTAC will be there.