Chrysler Suicide Watch 32: Slumlords

Andrew Dederer
by Andrew Dederer

It’s getting close to the first anniversary of Chrysler going to the dog. While there’ve been job cuts and “market adjustments,” the shoes are still hanging. Chrysler is still a long way from being profitable. But it appears to be an equally long way from breakup. What exactly is planned? The truth may be that Cerberus isn't “planning” so much as “waiting.”

For Cerberus, buying Chrysler was a gamble. As you’d expect from New York money men, they did several things to “stack the deck.” First, they got the company for a song (under seven and a half billion) with some working capital included. More importantly, they took the automaker private. With no shareholders to whine about dividends, no “captain Kirks” to try to swing a takeover, Cerberus can afford to take the long view. And the long view says… go public. Or strip and flip. Either way, now’s not the time.

Cerberus’ holding pattern has less to do with ChryCo’s declining fortunes than OTHER carmakers’ declining fortunes. In other words, you can’t flip a company without a flipee. The current U.S. automotive market leaves very few players flush with cash, looking for an American dance partner. And those that are, aren’t. Splitting-up Chrysler’s assets is the only realistic alternative, and that idea poses involves many of the same issues.

At the moment, Jeep is only spinnable hunk of Chrysler. (No surprise there; Jeep’s had more “partners” than the widow next door.) Jeep is the only part of Cerberus’ entire car making operations with a positive cash-flow. While the profits aren’t enormous, the brand’s “trail-ratings” carry enough cachet to allow big mark-ups on simple vehicles.

There are several problems with Cerberus selling Jeep sooner rather than later. First, while Jeep’s hard-core fan base is less (more?) affected by fashion than most, SUVs are not the flavor of the month. The new U.S. federal corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) regulations are in flux, awaiting clarification and California-compliance (or not). In any case, whatever Cerberus could get for Jeep now pales is comparison to what Jeep would be worth in a hot, relatively settled market.

Next and again, who’d buy Jeep? With credit in short supply, a US-market outsider would have trouble stumping-up the dough to snag it. And those foreign firms that could afford Jeep (BMW, Toyota, Honda, etc.) either already have off-road products or don’t want them. VW is busy. Daimler is sitting in the corner, grinning.

Renault/Nissan is the only like foreign suitor— only they aren’t. Carlos Ghosn may make noises about mergers, but there ARE limits. And lest we forget, NONE of the imports are brave/stupid enough to buy a unionized company, bringing the (free!) Trojan horse through the gates. Domestically, Ford just sold Land Rover. And although GM has decades of experience cannibalizing itself, even RenCen knows it doesn’t need Hummer AND Jeep.

Besides, what would Cerberus do with the rest of the company after they stripped-out the only part anyone wants? China is often named as a potential buyer, but even for pennies on the dollar for U.S. production capacity and access to thousands of dealers, they’d see Chrysler as the financial sinkhole that it is.

No matter how much— or more likely little— Cerberus made from a larger Chrysler breakup, it could be the volte face that launches a thousand lawsuits. Shuttering Oldsmobile cost GM billions; the General’s terminal brand wasn’t a fraction the size of Chrysler, Dodge or Jeep (never mind the three brands combined). Filing for bankruptcy and THEN selling off the bits would mitigate Cerberus’ legal risk, but it’s hardly a profitable exit strategy. If nothing else, Chapter 11 would decimate the brands’ street value.

As I stated at the beginning, any fool knows that Chrysler is a long, long way from profitability. But who said anything about profitability (other than me)? Cerberus doesn’t have to “build equity;” they don’t have to justify their decisions to institutional shareholders. Think of Chrysler as a slum landlord who bought a building on the cheap awaiting a buyout offer and you begin to get the picture.

Watch as Chrysler reins-in R&D while “consolidating” dealers (i.e. watching them die). This viewpoint explains “quicker than quick” Chrysler’s strange reluctance to cut vehicle lines that everybody (but their few remaining buyers) know are dead in the water. The superabundance of product forces dealers to go tits up, and leave their proverbial apartments.

Remember: Cerberus is in this to make money, not to “save Chrysler.” They need to get their $8b back, plus a little extra (Daimler holds 19.9 percent). To do that, all they have to do is run the business into the ground. When the time comes to “sell Jeep, liquidate the rest,” Chrysler’s corporate coffers will be conveniently bare (or pretty close). The lawyers can fight over the bones. And the “dog” will have had its day.

Andrew Dederer
Andrew Dederer

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  • Steven Lang Steven Lang on Mar 30, 2008

    At the risk of making this a geo-political discussion, I'll hold back on the last few interesting comments although there's a part of me that would love to have talk about em' over lunch. I'll say this about Chrysler. It WILL go bankrupt and it WILL happen within the next two years. After that it's pretty much anyone's guess. As an aside, anyone who spends serious time at the dealer auctions has seen the fantastic degradation of their product. From 2004 onward they have been on such a terrible decline that nothing within the realm of reality could have saved them. I still blame Daimler... chances are they would have been the healthiest one of the 2.8 if the morons at Mercedes didn't drastically cut their R&D budget and neglect to share any of the platforms or parts bin materials that were sorely needed.

  • Anonymous Anonymous on Apr 03, 2008

    Basically Cerebus was paid by MB to take Chrysler off their hands so they would take it through Bankruptcy and kill the Unions. Remember they hired Neutron Bomb (kills people and leave buildings) Nardelli to come in to do what present management could not. Jim Press is to make it appear like they are trying. Nardelli already stated they are going to sell off Real Estate that Chrysler owns. Approximately $1.4 billion worth. Goodbye proving grounds! Remember the Carlsbad design facility was shut down. If Cerebus can't wrestle this beast as its mythical name suggests they will sell it to an Indian company. Tata and Mahindra are very capable of buying it. Tons of companies in India are awash in prive equity. Tata is shopping; they bought a Dutch steel company for 12.2 billion and now land rover and Jaguar for a a mere 2.3 billion, while saying they will invest $1.5-3 billion in capital investments (expanding production for one).

  • Lorenzo Subaru had the ideal wagon - in 1995. The Legacy Outback was a straight two-box design with rear quarter and back windows you could see out of, and was available in brown with a 5-speed manual, as God and TTAC commenters intended. It's nice they're not raising prices, but when you've lost the plot, does it matter?
  • Bkojote Remember a month a go when Cleveland wanted to create a more walkable Cleveland and TTAC's 'BIG GOVERNMENT IS THE PROBLEM' dumbest and dullest all collectively crapped their diapers? Here's the thing- look on any American highway and it's littered with people who don't /want/ to be driving or shouldn't be. Look at every Becky on her phone during the morning commute in her Tucson, look at every Brad aggro driving his 84 month loan GMC. Hell look how many drivers nowadays can't even operate a headlight switch. You expect these people to understand a stoplight? In my neighborhood alone 4 people have been rear ended at lights from someone on their phone. Distracted driving over the past 10 years has spiked, and it's only going to get worse unless Becky has an alternative, because no judge is going to pull her license when 'she needs it to get to work!' but heaven forbid she not check fb/tiktok for 40 minutes a day.
  • Scott Shouldn't the The Italian Minister for Business be criticizing The Milano for being too ugly to be Italian?Better use of resources doing that....
  • Steve Biro Frankly, while I can do without Eyesight and automatic start-stop, there is generally less B-S with Subarus in terms of design, utility and off-road chops than with many other brands. I just hope that when they adopt Toyota’s hybrid system, they’ll also use Toyota’s eCVT.
  • The Oracle These are all over the roads in droves here in WNC. Rarely see one on the side of the road, they are wildly popular, capable, and reliable. There is a market for utilitarian vehicles.