Chrysler Suicide Watch 25: Dickless Porn

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago

It’s true. The United Auto Workers (UAW) six hour strike against Chrysler was nothing more than a bit of empty posturing, some meaningless moaning and a quick and unsatisfying climax. Oh I’m sure the union bosses are basking in the warm afterglow of successful pattern bargaining; safe in the knowledge that Chrysler will render unto Caesar the same plunderiffic health care deal as GM, as they look fordward to their next payout. And Chrysler’s new masters must also be happy with the deal. (Ipso facto.) But anyone who’d hoped that someone in Detroit would have the balls to finally shaft the UAW has been left high and dry.

Truth be told, I was one of those observers who assumed that a switch from public stockholder to private equity ownership would help Chrysler grow a serious set of stones. With no one to answer to but their free-spending wives, ex-wives and children, with pockets deeper than an Icelandic ice core, Cerberus' directors could do what The Big 2.8’s erstwhile guardians had never done (if the thought even occurred to them): walk. Hey Ron! You want job guarantees and a bazillion dollar health care VEBA? See you in China. Anyone want to buy Jeep?

That said, my belief in Cerberus’ ability to upset the union applecart disappeared long before the UAW negotiations began. A few weeks after Chrysler’s overlords installed former Home Depot CEO Bob Nardelli into the top slot, I suspected Cerberus couldn’t get wood. There was only one good reason to hire the Prowler-owning auto industry virgin, a man whose largest contribution to his previous employer was self-checkout terminals (for which he paid himself $210m). To cull the deadwood and strip Chrysler like the Grinch looting Cindy Lou Who’s house.

This he didn’t do. If anything, Nardelli’s added complexity to the system. First, he failed to fire Chrysler Prez Tom LaSorda; the exec that helped the Germans run the ailing American automaker into the ground. Next, Nardelli appointed his office manager as his new turnaround titan. Then he hired Toyota’s Jim Press as Chrysler's car czar; a self-professed "servant leader” whose consensus management style poses no threat to Chrysler’s dysfunctional bureaucracy. These are not the actions of a revolutionary intent on a destroying a busted business model.

I know: it’s hard to believe that Cerberus would allow Chrysler’s new management team to adopt the same “steady as she goes” strategy that’s helped GM shed huge chunks of market share and drop billions over the last 17 years, and led Ford to mortgage everything up to and including their logo. With bankruptcy’s long shadow hanging over Detroit, how could anyone with even the gentlest grasp on recent history assume that tweaking overheads, products, sales and marketing is a recipe for success?

And yet, where’s the game changer?

The weird thing is that Chrysler seems to know what it should be doing to reinvent itself. They made a head fake in the direction of cleaning their dealers’ clocks, looking to trim a bloated dealer network Chrysler can’t afford. And then they backed off. They talked about killing overlapping, brand-defiling models and refocusing their product line. And then added more complexity: a new hybrid-building hothouse. AND we're still waiting for the Pacifica, Durango, Aspen, et. al. to die. Chrysler hinted that a GM-style union health care VEBA superfund wasn’t for them. And then they agreed to it.

Perhaps the UAW agreement is simply Cerberus’ attempt to buy some time. Let’s get the best union deal we can, keep the dealers’ doors open and the factories humming a while, and THEN we’ll blindside them. THEN we’ll close factories, kill models, import Chinese products, cut deals with other automakers to retail their products, sell off brands, face the dealers in court, etc. It’s a heartening thought for those who see Chrysler’s re-invention as the key to its survival, but the facts don’t fit the theory.

Cerberus’ is famous for implementing a “100 day” plan on their new acquisitions. The 100 days have come and gone; if they were going to kick out the jams, the jams would be kicked. Aside from adding new management, the carmaker Cerberus owns today looks strikingly similar to the carmaker Cerberus purchased on May 14– new union contract and all.

In fact, the day before the UAW strikelet, Chrysler announced they were cutting 415 full-time white collar jobs from their Auburn Hills HQ, and saying sayonara to 1000 temps. The bloodletting was part of LaSorda’s pre-Cerberus turnaround plan, which dictated that the automaker shed 11k hourly and 2k salaried jobs over three years. So the “old” turnaround plan was/is still chugging away behind the scenes, even as Cerberus headed into and out of UAW negotiations. That ain’t good.

It’s time to face facts: Chrysler’s new boss is the same as the old boss. Same game plan. Same results. The UAW non-strike strike proves that the real indecencies are yet to come.

Robert Farago
Robert Farago

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  • Seldomawake Seldomawake on Oct 15, 2007

    Pch101: Great post. I agree with your evaluation. If you want to guess at a company's plan, take a look at their hiring. I guess only time will tell.

  • Rashakor Rashakor on Oct 15, 2007

    I would also agree with d996. This would be in line with the Wall Street Shark behavior of past years and consistent with the hiring of Nardelli.

  • IBx1 Never got the appeal of these; it looks like there was a Soviet mandate to create a car with two doors and a roof that could be configured in different ways.
  • CAMeyer Considering how many voters will be voting for Trump because they remember that gas prices were low in 2020–never mind the pandemic—this seems like a wise move.
  • The Oracle Been out on the boat on Lake James (NC) and cooking up some hella good food here with friends at the lake place.
  • ToolGuy Also on to-do list: Read the latest Steve S. fiction work on TTAC (May 20 Junkyard Find)
  • 1995 SC I'm likely in the minority, but I really liked the last Eldorado best. That and the STS.
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