The Truth About Cars » Cash The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 17 Jul 2014 20:36:40 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Cash Fiat Bitten By Financial Watchdog Mon, 08 Oct 2012 13:39:38 +0000

Fiat says it sits on a 22.7 billion euro cash pile. CONSOB, the Italian equivalent of the SEC, told Fiat to explain “size and purpose” of its cash position, says Il Messagero in Rome. Fiat says it is not aware of an alleged probe, and that any suggestion that its cash pile was lower than reported in its statements was false, and will be dealt with.

“Any suggestion that Fiat may not have the liquidity stated in its financial statements is false and will be treated as such by Fiat,” Fiat told Reuters. However, the way we read it, Fiat is not accused of overstating its cash. Instead, it is blamed for not spending the money.

On September 24, Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne said in a speech that he is  “exasperated” by CONSOB’s “19 letters” between April 2010 and October 2011 that asked for more information about Fiat’s plans to invest in Italy. According to the Economic Times, “Fiat has 12.1 billion euros in cash and equivalents, and Chrysler, in which Fiat has a 58 percent stake, has 10.6 billion euros, it said on July 30. Fiat cannot access Chrysler’s cash because of agreements with Chrysler’s creditors.”

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The Autobiography Of BS©: How I Paid A Car In Cash Tue, 23 Nov 2010 14:22:02 +0000

Due to the animated discussion of distribution models and dealer profits, I’ll resurrect The Autobiography Of BS© - just for this one time. As all the other stories, the story is true. Even the name wasn’t changed. Harry is still alive and well. I just did make sure.

It was a Friday. At the tender age of 23, I served as the editor-in-chief of a small German weekly, and I hated hectic Fridays when we had to put the new issue to bed.

My friend Harry was on the phone.

“I need your help. Urgent financial matters.”

That was a new one. One problem Harry did not have was financials. The name of Harry’s deceased father was on a large German publishing house. Dad had wisely written into his will that Harry should be kept far, far away from the business, in exchange for undisclosed sums. Harry would never get over the outrageous fact that his dad hadn’t found him worthy of managing a huge publishing house. Harry settled into a bohemian lifestyle and did what he did best: Write.

His trick was to look poor. “Otherwise everybody will hit me up for money.” And suddenly HE claims to have financial problems?

“Can’t that wait until Monday? I have to put the magazine to bed.”

“It’s urgent. I need you now. Huge problems with my bank. Can’t explain it over the phone. Just come.”

Sounded ominous enough. I quickly looked over the proofs and handed the rest to my deputy, with the warning that he would be a head shorter by Monday if he messed it up.

Half an hour later, I was at Harry’s place.

“So what’s the problem?”

“You know, I moved to that new part of town, and the old bank where I lived is too far away and inconvenient. I opened an account at the bank down at the corner.”


“And now the money must go from the old bank to the new bank.”

“Are you nuts? You are calling me away from work on a friggen Friday for THAT? You write a bank transfer slip, and it’s done.”

“Too complicated. Can’t trust those banks. We go to the old bank, withdraw the money. Then we put it in the new bank. Oh, and on the way back, we buy the van. We need money to pay for the van.”

“A van? What do you need a van for?”

Harry explained that the other day, he had been turned down by a hotel. Supposedly, they were fully booked. Truth be told, this was the early 70s, and both Harry and I looked like the guys in Murilee’s inaugurational story a TTAC. Compared to us, The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers looked well groomed. The receptionist at the fivestar where Harry had intended to bed down for the night probably thought that the scion of one of Germany’s most highly respected publishing houses couldn’t possibly LOOK LIKE THAT, and denied him a room.

“And what do you need the van for?”

“Next time I won’t get a room, I’ll sleep in it.”

“You have totally lost it. Guess how many suites you can book for the price of a van.”

“I want a van. A Ford Transit.”

“Camper version?”

“Nah, I just throw two mattresses in the back. It’s just in case. Usually, I get a room.”

For the umpteenth time, I understood the wisdom of his passed away father to keep Harry away from the levers of a large corporation.

We piled in a taxi and drove to the bank. Walked up to the cashier, where Harry announced:

“I want to make a withdrawal.”

“How much?”


The cashier looked at the two fabulous furry freak bothers and put on his best condescending grin.

Then he punched a few keys. He looked at the screen. He took off his glasses and cleaned them. He looked again. His face froze.

“Sir, do I understand you right that you intend to withdraw the full balance in your account in CASH?”

“That’s what I said.”

“Can’t we help you with a better investment? With this kind of money we can give you prefer …”

“I want the cash. We don’t have all day. We have other business to complete.”

“Certainly, Sir. Of course, Sir. Just a minute, Sir.”

The cashier rummaged in his drawer. Mumbled something unintelligible. Then he went to a small vault in the cashier’s cage. Mumbled something unintelligible. Then he announced “just a moment, gentlemen” and went to the back. He returned with two guards who carried a case.

“I guess you won’t mind larger denominations, Sir?”

“Just give me the money,” Harry grouched. He was in a foul mood, he hadn’t had a drink since lunchtime.

Harry handed the cashier two canvass bags and the cashier filled them. I didn’t want to know how much it was, and to this day, I don’t. The bags were big.

“Will the gentlemen need more assistance? The guards can escort you to your automobile.”

“No thanks, we take a taxi.”

Next stop was the largest Ford dealer in Frankfurt. With the banking matters behind us, this was my part, I was the alleged car expert.

“We want to buy a Ford Transit.”

The receptionist gave us a good long “gauge the customer” look, wrinkled her nose and said:


“No, new.”

They found a salesman. He gave us an indignant look and spread out brochures.

“What do you have here?”

“This is the finest utility vehicle in its class.”

“I mean, what do you have on the lot?”

“You can order anything from these brochures. Ford will custom make the van to your specifications.”

“We want to take one home. Today. What do you have in stock?”

He was shocked. He called around. Finally, we stood in front of three Transits.

Harry pointed at a white one and said: “That one.”

I then started the usual price negotiation. I dropped “we pay cash” into the conversation (which was ignored,) and received the customary 5 percent discount.

“Ok. So how do we pay for it?”

“We can offer you attractive financing options.”

“Didn’t I say we pay cash?”

“Look, I already gave you a 5 percent discount.”

“It’s a cash transaction.”

“O.k., 6 percent, anything more and I get fired.”

“We’ll take it. But we are paying in cash. So where …”

“Gentlemen, this was my best offer.”

“We will pay cash.”

“You are making this very hard on me. I need to talk to my manager.

Off he went.

He came back with the manager in tow. The manager explained that 6 percent is the most his dealership can do without going bankrupt, but taken into account that this was a floor model:

“Seven percent.”

“Great, we’ll take it.”

Harry signed on the bottom line.

“Now, as I said, we’ll be paying in cash.”

“Gentlemen, please!!!! Any further discounts are absolutely out of the question !!!”

“Let me rephrase that: How would you like to get paid?”

“As I said, there is very attractive financing …”


“O.k., o.k., I get it, no problem. Just transfer the money. Or write a check.”


“No need to get excited. We’ll work something out.”

I grabbed one of the canvass bags, opened it and let him have a look inside.

His expensively tanned complexion turned waxen.

“You mean, you want to, I mean, pay WITH THAT?”

“We’ve been saying this for hours.”

“We are not set up for this.”

“I recommend to change that.”

Frantic calls ensued. Finally a skinny old bookkeeper appeared, carrying a cashbox usually used for petty cash.

I reached in the bag and counted out the money in large Deutschmark bills. No Euros in 1972. The bookkeeper fingered them, they passed muster.

“Ok, where’s the van?”

“We need to get it ready. Come back Monday.”

“We want it now. We paid …”

“… I know, I know. Come back in a few hours.”

While someone checked the air and the fluids, someone else probably ran a background check and found out that one of the furry freak brothers was indeed the scion of a famous German family, while the other one remained a mystery.

Just two years later, when the Red Army Faction got going in earnest, we probably would have been arrested on the spot.

PS: As for Harry, he had his revenge. He is one of the most sought-after translators of the trickiest English literature into German, from Flann O’Brien to Hemmingway. He did more than 100 books, “nine this year.” He also plays a perennial role in Germany’s perennial soap “Lindenstrasse.” Playing a homeless bum, he’s more famous than the publishing company that was swallowed by an even bigger one.

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GM’s IPO: For King, Country, or Cadillac? Thu, 15 Jul 2010 19:38:43 +0000

After ending the first quarter of this year with $35.7b in cash and equivalents, GM was in the best position it’s enjoyed in decades. And yet, with an IPO prospectus looming, The General is seeking a $5b line of credit and trotting out EBITDAPRO as its in-house measure of financial success. Both of these tactics are hallmarks of companies that are doing poorly, and GM has already learned how problematic loading up on debt and sliced-and-diced financials can be. So why is The General inviting criticism from outlets like Edmunds Autoobserver, which characterizes GM’s push towards an IPO as the rebirth of old bad habits? The simple answer: “business execution.” In other words, GM may have a lot of cash, but it’s got nearly as many demands on its resources as well… and these cash drains hardly add up to a coherent strategy.

GM still has yet to announce its Q2 financial performance, but already it’s clear from anecdotal evidence that GM is spending a lot more money than it has in several years. Much of it is going to marketing, as GM sponsorships have re-emerged post-bankruptcy for everything from Public Broadcasting to the giveaway of Corvettes to baseball players and business leaders. With a new marketing boss, GM is also re-shuffling its ad agencies, and has been buying up ads for new products like the Buick Regal, as well as older products with sagging sales, like the Chevy Corvette. Add increases to R&D for a number of canceled powertrain programs ($42m of which had been written off as losses at the end of last year) and the development of a number of potentially expensive new products (more on this in a bit) and you’ve got a sure-fire recipe for rising costs.

Meanwhile, GM’s sales have remained relatively stagnant. “Core brands” were up nearly 32 percent in the first half of 2010, but overall GM is outperforming its H1 2009 performance in US-market sales by a mere 13.2 percent, as the economy falters mid-recovery. Against a backdrop of sharply-increasing costs in marketing and R&D, the underlying mechanics of GM’s business are a crunch that will eventually require either another cutback in long-delayed marketing or R&D spending, or a real turnaround in sales not driven by profit-sapping fleet sales.

And that’s just the background to GM’s real dilemmas. The General will need to spend about $6b on its Opel and Daewoo divisions in this year alone, a move that will cut its cash pile by at least a fifth. Since these divisions develop the platforms and products that have made GM competitive once again, The General can’t afford to not keep them open, and no government seems willing to step in and help out.

Meanwhile, The General needs to be saving cash for a rainy day as well: it will have to pay $5.9b in unfunded pension costs in 2013, and another $6.4b in 2014. That’s roughly $18b of GM’s $30b cash pile spoken for before a single new car is developed, not counting any operating losses accrued along the way.

And new car development is a must if The General’s turnaround is to stay rolling along. Powertrains are one area where GM is said to be spending big money, and a new generation of full-sized trucks and SUVs are also in the works. A whole new RWD platform, known as Alpha, is under development at Cadillac and is said to provide the underpinnings for Cadillac’s new 3-Series competitor (ATS) as well as the next-gen CTS and Camaro. Though the costs for these projects aren’t being released, it seems safe to assume that capital expenditures in Q2 and beyond should accelerate significantly from Q1′s $800m number simply on the strength of these investments.

And here’s where it gets interesting: with Chairman/CEO Ed Whitacre now running product planning, a RWD Cadillac flagship is coming back onto the table, backed internally by both Whitacre and GM NA boss Mark Reuss. Though a modified Zeta platform is under discussion for the range-topper, GM had previously declared the platform unfit for luxury car duty, and there are reports of a new RWD platform known as “Beta” under development at GM Shanghai. If a new platform is being developed, the cost could easily amount to another billion dollars (if not more), which begs the question: does GM need a full-blooded flagship? How this plan impacts the Epsilon II+ XTS “flagship” that is probably even further along in development isn’t clear; the XTS was supposed to be the cheap route to a Caddy flagship, but now it seems more likely to be canceled or become a hybrid-only model.

But while Whitacre dreams of a world-class RWD Cadillac (and purportedly fights for the Chinese-market RWD Buick Park Avenue to come stateside), yet another force is stirring beneath GM’s feet. With the election of Bob King, the United Auto Workers have taken a distinct turn towards the internationalist left, as the union struggles for relevance in the post-bailout environment. And with profits at Ford inspiring talk at the UAW of rolling back long-overdue concessions, any sign of consistent profits by GM by next year’s bargaining session will be seen as an excuse for King’s fired-up negotiators to put the squeeze on GM. Especially if the union is able to dump most of its VEBA account holdings of GM equity, it would have no compunction in once again bleeding the goose that lays golden eggs.

In short, GM’s expenditures are rising even as sales remain sluggish. After a solid five years of starving powertrain and platform development, GM conservatively faces $5b in annual capital expenditures, plus an additional $6b in annual expenditures for 2010, 2013 and 2014 to maintain its pension plan and overseas divisions. That accounts for The General’s $30b cash pile right there, before making the investments needed to fulfill Ed Whitacre’s desire to make Cadillac a world-class luxury brand, or accounting for demands made by a newly invigorated UAW led by Bob King’s firebrand vision. Either of these could add billions to GM’s survival bill, especially during the 2011-2012 respite from pension and overseas obligations.

And then there’s the final piece of the puzzle: what this all spells for the government’s 61 percent stake in GM. Because of political pressure to exit its unwanted investment as soon as possible, the Treasury’s priorities are last in the growing line for GM’s cash pile. This is hardly surprising given that the cash came from Treasury in the first place, but GM also can’t ignore the deleterious effects that a huge taxpayer bath would have on its image with consumers. GM doesn’t owe Treasury full payback out of a moral obligation, but because its potential customers are footing the bill for their turnaround. With King, Country and Cadillac all lining up for a piece of GM’s dwindling cash pile, someone is going to get left out in the cold.

So, what’s a bailed-out automaker to do? Holding a hard line on the union is crucial, as it’s the one component of this balancing act that can be taken for granted (on the other hand, British Leland). And as much as we disdain GM’s plan to saddle Cadillac with the mass-market platform-derived XTS flagship, there’s no guarantee that Whitacre’s cherished RWD flagship would be worth the $1b-$2b it would cost to develop. If anything, GM should prioritize taxpayer payback for the simple reason that its obligation to the taxpayer (rather than, say, the fact that the government controls its day-to-day decisions, which it doesn’t) is a significant factor in its sluggish sales relative to Ford.

But the fact that GM is pursuing a $5b line of credit and diving into an IPO indicates that GM is willing to take a hit on its initial valuation and let Treasury take the loss, rather than forgo a number of expensive new development programs. This will serve only to extend GM’s financial burden beyond the 2014 window for its pension obligations, further hurting its long-term investment value. And this debt also hurts its short-term value compared to Ford, because the Blue Oval’s overleveraged balance sheet is one of the only things that makes GM look good by comparison.

With King, Country and Cadillac all lining up for GM’s liquid assets, it’s too soon to abandon austerity measures in the RenCen. There are more than enough tough choices ahead for General Motors.

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A Marchionne Miracle! Chrysler Generates Cash Sun, 13 Jun 2010 13:26:42 +0000

Last Friday, Chrysler celebrated the first anniversary of its miraculous emergence from bankruptcy. What did the employees get in observance of this occasion? A watch? A bonus?

They received an email.

From Sergio Marchionne himself. In the email (a copy of which had been forwarded to Reuters), Sergio assures the worker bees that Chrysler is generating the cash needed to rebuild its product portfolio, that sales continue to gain momentum, and that the company’s alliance with Fiat is “taking root” by cutting costs and expanding revenue from outside of North America.

Cash is key to Marchionne’s ambitious five-year turnaround plan for Chrysler. Fiat could use some cash itself.

Chrysler caused bulging eyes amongst analysts when the company reported a $143m first-quarter, operating profit driven by cost-cutting and higher sales volume.

“There is still a very long road ahead in our drive to rebuild our business and to deliver on our promises to repay the American and Canadian taxpayers who gave us a second chance,” said Sergio. Thanks for reminding us.

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Ford Completes $13.2b Health Care Liability Transfer To VEBA Mon, 04 Jan 2010 23:04:17 +0000 (

Ford has wrapped up some much-needed financial wrangling today, as it struggles with with its monstrous pile of debt. According to Automotive News [sub], Ford transferred $13.2b in debt and about $4b in cash to the UAW-run health care trust fund, completing a long-awaited liability consolidation. $1.4b of the transfer was a scheduled payment on a $6.7b note, while $500m more was a prepayment on that note. Ford paid $610m (cash) on another $6.5 billion note, transferred $620m from a temporary account and $3.5b from an internal VEBA fund and handed over warrants to purchase 362 million shares of Ford common stock at $9.20 per share. All together, the move reportedly adds $7b in debt to Ford’s balance sheet.

Ford’s CFO hailed the move, which culminates a process began with the 2007 UAW contract, saying it “will significantly improve our competitiveness in the US.” If nothing else, the move does show that Ford is less worried about its liquidity than we may have thought: both the pre-payment and the use of cash rather than stock to pay the scheduled VEBA payment indicate confidence in the balance sheet. And unlike the huge amounts of “equity” in GM and Chrysler owned by VEBA, Ford’s stock is actually worth money. In fact, Ford’s stock is currently worth about a dollar more per share than VEBA’s $9.20 option price, meaning VEBA will probably convert them soon for a quick profit. After all, they’ll be waiting quite a bit longer for their GM and Chrysler stock to be worth more than the paper it’s printed on.

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$13.6 Billion Remaining in GM’s Bailout Escrow Account Tue, 03 Nov 2009 00:36:19 +0000 \Stop me if you've seen this one... (

GM was given its last $30B of taxpayer money as it entered bankruptcy in early June of this year. By the time GM exited Chapter 11 protection on July 10, there was only $16.4B left in its bailout escrow account. According to an 8-K form filed today with the SEC, GM now has only $13.6B remaining in that account, less than one-third of GM’s $50B total bailout (not counting assistance to GMAC). GM’s rescue of its major supplier, Delphi, consumed $2.8 billion from its escrow account. According to the form:

Approximately $1.7 billion was utilized to acquire a membership interest in the new Delphi entity and approximately $1.1 billion was expended in the acquisition of Delphi’s global steering business, certain domestic facilities and other related payments

The form also confirms that GM spent about $417M on GM-Daewoo’s recent rights offering, but notes:

GM has not finalized the accounting treatment for the participation in GM Daewoo’s equity rights offering.

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September Sales Rate Lowest in 28 Years? Sat, 19 Sep 2009 15:37:08 +0000 The 276 Concept was a project by four students and two professors of the HBK Saar Design School in Germany for the 2006 AMI Motor Show in Leipzig.(courtesy

Automotive News [sub] brings glad tidings for auto execs drunk on Clunkers: “September’s light-vehicle sales rate will fall to 8.8 million units, consumer auto site said. That would be the lowest rate in nearly 28 years, tying the worst demand on record.” Well, I did predict an 8m seasonally-adjusted annual sales (SAAR) rate. But did they listen? Noooooo. “They” had to spend $3 billion of taxpayers’ money on a cash infusion that did nothing—zip—to improve the industry’s long term well being. Or even longer. In fact, what’s the bet that the news (which hits for real on October 1) will trigger MORE federal spending on the ailing American automakers? You ain’t seen nothing yet. “Many people regard February as the darkest month of the recession, but even then the SAAR was higher, at 9.1 million units,” senior statistician Zhenwei Zhou said in a statement. Expect to hear more apocalyptic pronouncements at an MSM outlet near you soon.

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