Chrysler Suicide Watch 7: Be My Valentine… Or Else

Frank Williams
by Frank Williams
chrysler suicide watch 7 be my valentine 8230 or else

Valentine’s Day. The day that keeps jewelers, greeting card companies, florists and candy makers afloat from the one Christmas to the next. The day where millions of dollars are spent around the world in the hopes of an increased chance of getting laid. And this year, it’s the day when DaimlerChrysler will reveal their makeover plan aimed at diverting Chrysler Group from its seemingly self-destructive course. Will “Project X” prove to be a lovefest for all concerned, or is it another St. Valentine’s Day Massacre just waiting to happen?

European stockholders and more than a few Mercedes executives have made no bones about their desire to trim the deadwood. They think DCX should ditch the “C” and become Daimler-Benz once again. If they had their way, the Chrysler Group would be cut loose and left to drift aimlessly until it either managed to paddle its own boat or went under. Either way, they would no longer have to worry about any corporate cross-breeding that could contaminate their unsullied gene pool.

According to a report in The Detroit News, the “dump Chrysler” partisans are about to be disabused of that notion. On February fourteenth, CEO Dieter Zetsche, Chrysler Chief Executive Tom LaSorda and Mercedes-Benz Chief Operating Officer Rainer Schmückle will officially unveil their revitalization plan for the stricken American automaker

The new plan contains some ideas analysts have long expected: radical downsizing of Chrysler’s production capability, consolidating its far-flung operations and slashing over 10K blue collar jobs. But the new deal also contains a real shock, a decision that’s bound to raise more than a few eyebrows amongst Mercedes’ German stockholders. First, the details…

Under the new regime, Chrysler will do the GM thing– UAW buyouts and plant closures– to become a leaner, meaner automaker. As part of this revitalization program, Chrysler will also strengthen its ties with its Teutonic teammate. The two companies will share parts (though restricted to underbody components to avoid “cheapening” the Mercedes brand.)

The two automakers will also jointly create a shared architecture for the next-generation M-Class, Grand Cherokee and Durango. And they’ll co-develop new vehicle designs, including the next crop of small cars for American and European consumers.

In addition to the formal restructuring plan, there are other indications that the Berlin wall dividing these two “equals” is crumbling. According to today’s Automotive News, Chrysler is considering offering a diesel version of their newly redesigned minivan by model year 2010.

The diesel minivan would be the second Chrysler product equipped with a Mercedes oil burner, a 2.2-liter turbocharged four. (The Grand Cherokee will offer a 3.0-liter V6 diesel starting next month; the diesel Ram 1500 projected for model year 2010 will have a Cummins turbodiesel engine).

Chrysler is also consolidating minivan production to their plants in North America. They’ll end production at the Magna Steyr plant in Austria and move the European-market diesel and right-hand-drive Grand Voyagers back to a factory on Chrysler’s home turf. Once they replace the Italian-sourced diesel they currently use with EPA-certified Mercedes iron, there’s no reason not to offer them for sale in the US as well. And if that happens, could diesel passenger cars be far behind?

Chrysler’s restructuring plan sounds sound, but it flies in the face of the company’s well-established internecine conflict. As we’ve reported previously, the battle lines between the two behemoths have already been drawn. Lest we forget, DaimlerChrysler corporate development boss Ruediger Grube made a pre-Christmas declaration that "a Mercedes will remain a Mercedes and may not share a platform with anyone."

The tension between Germany’s “Mercedes first, last and always” loyalists and Chrysler’s American “You gotta help us out here” realists puts DCX on a tightrope. On a practical level, the Mercedes’ stockholders who share Ruediger’s reticence are not likely to back down simply because Mercedes has finally decided to do what they should have done in the first place. The backlash could be anything from demanding Zetsche’s head to wholesale stock dumping.

Just as dangerously, an anti-Chrysler cabal within the Mercedes organization could simply drag its feet on the implementation side of the deal. Just by not helping to make the agreement work, Mercedes’ management could make it fail. They’d simply wait for the plan to fall apart in the existing melee of clashing corporate cultures.

Zetsche, LaSorda and Schmückle have all spent a lot of hours and burned a lot of jet fuel to try and salvage the rocky relationship between the Chrysler Group and its German [s]masters [/s]partners. But as any marriage counselor will tell you, both partners have to work to make a relationship a success.

Until and unless Mercedes’ best and brightest get with the program, the recriminations will fly. Hopefully this Valentine’s Day will mark the start of something beautiful, rather than the beginning of the end.

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  • on Feb 28, 2007

    A four cylinder Mercedes diesel is definite for 2010 or so.

  • on Feb 28, 2007

    PS> Interesting views on the DCX problems. Seems like the supervisory board is in two camps, the Schrempp Chrysler-haters and the Zetsche sympathizers. Lots of discussion... http://www.allpar.com/weblogs/

  • SCE to AUX Probably couldn't afford it - happens all the time.
  • MaintenanceCosts An ugly-a$s Challenger with poor equipment choices and an ugly Dealership Default color combination, not even a manual to redeem it, still no sale.
  • Cha65689852 To drive a car, you need human intelligence, not artificial intelligence.Unfortunately, these days even human brains are turning into mush thanks to addiction to smartphones and social media.
  • Mike1041 A nasty uncomfortable little car. Test drove in 2019 in a search for a single car that would appease two drivers. The compromise was not much better but at least it had decent rear vision and cargo capacity. The 2019 Honda HRV simply was too unforgiving and we ditched after 4 years. Enter the 23 HRV and we have a comfy size.
  • SCE to AUX I wonder who really cares about this. "Slave labor" is a useful term for the agendas of both right and left."UAW Wants Auto Industry to Stop Using Slave Labor"... but what will the UAW actually do if nothing changes?With unrelenting downward pressure on costs in every industry - coupled with labor shortages - expect to see more of this.Perhaps it's my fault when I choose the $259 cell phone over the $299 model, or the cheaper parts at RockAuto, or the lower-priced jacket at the store.Do I care about an ethical supply chain? Not really, I just want the product to work - and that's how most consumers are. We'd rather not know.Perhaps the 1990s notion of conflict-free, blood-free, ethically-sourced diamonds will find its way into the auto industry. That would be a good thing.
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