Chrysler Suicide Watch 38: Nissan Comes A-Courtin'

Frank Williams
by Frank Williams
chrysler suicide watch 38 nissan comes a courtin

Chrysler doesn't do well outside it own backyard, or play well with others. The American automaker's attempts to expand globally in the early ‘60s ended with Chrysler selling their European operations (Rootes Group, Simca and Barreiros) to PSA Peugeot Citroën. In the 70's, Chrysler off-loaded their Australian subsidiary to Mitsubishi. ChryCo's last U.S. partnership with a Japanese manufacturer (Mitsubishi again) ended on less than cordial terms. The "merger of equals" with Germany's Mercedes-Benz almost [may actually have] killed it. So why would Chrysler entertain the idea of another off-shore partnership? And why would Nissan ever want to partner with an automaker as moribund as Chrysler?

Chrysler has inked an agreement with Nissan whereby the Yanks will build a full-sized pickup to replace the transplant's dead-in-the-water Titan. Should the deal come to fruition, Nissan will be "free" to stop producing their four-wheeled Dodo. They can then convert their Mississippi Titan plant to produce more commercial, commercial vehicles.

In return, Nissan will build a small car for Chrysler. And now, even as Chrysler says they have "no new alliances" to announce, the media suggests that Nissan will also build some version or another of their Altima midsized sedan for Chrysler dealers. Although the move transforms the much-touted "Project D" into "Project Dead," the automotive "outsourcing" would save Chrysler tens of millions of precious dollars in product development. Oh, did I mention Chrysler's contract with China's Chery to produce a subcompact for Dodge? Same deal.

Connect the dots and you have the meta-strategy outlined here before: Chrysler as K-Mart. It's only a matter of time before ALL of Chrysler and Dodge's products would be, in effect, store brands: other people's products labeled as Chryslers/Dodges. IF it has the time, Chrysler will maintain factories for their truck lines (operating at a reduced capacity) and get out of the automobile manufacturing business entirely.

So what's in it for Nissan? A line of rebadged Nissans may sound like just what the doctor (Z) ordered for Chrysler, but what chance does a Nissan badged Ram have?

History says not much. In the ‘90s, Ford assembled and sold the first generation Nissan Quest minivan as the Mercury Villager. Splat! After 2002 Ford and Nissan went their separate ways. In fact, American-badged versions of imported brand vehicles have always sold poorly, especially compared to the original. Think Quest/Villager, Matrix/Vibe, Eclipse/Talon, Corolla/Prizm.

Likewise, the import-branded version of American trucks have been sales zombies. Chevy Colorados did nothing as Isuzus. The Ford Ranger goes nowhere as the Mazda B-series. The Dodge Dakota sells even more poorly as a Mitsubishi Raider. A Nissan Dodge Ram might do better than the Titan, but that says nothing good about either truck.

One can only surmise (as many have) that Nissan's simply testing the waters, trawling for the remnants of Chrysler's production capacity, easing the eventual hauling-up of same. One can also look at history and see why Nissan would consider cozying-up to Chrysler: the company's [once and sole remaining] "crown" jewel. Jeep.

Obviously, DaimlerChrysler/Chrysler has done much to damage the iconic brand. Jeep sales are down 21.2 percent year-to-date (YTD). The Commander (down 54 percent in July) and the Compass (down 45.9 percent in July) are disasters. And yet the not-so-great Jeep Patriot is up four percent last month. The model offers proof– if proof be needed– that Jeep remains a powerful brand with excellent potential.

European and U.S. fuel economy regulations or no, with Nissan's connections in Asia and Renault's presence in Europe, a Nissan-owned Jeep could become a world-wide brand. Yes, Jeep's cursed; every company that's bought it has gone to the wall or belly-up at some point. But the brand still sings its siren song, all these years later.

The question is, of course, can Cerberus hang on long enough to strip and flip Chrysler/Jeep outside of C11? Moody's just downgraded ChryCo deeper into junk bond territory and bestowed B2 status on Chrysler Financial. Cerberus isn't in the habit of losing money. They'll have to do something soon. Selling off Chrysler NOW seems to be the best way to stop the cash hemorrhage.

Nissan isn't stupid enough to swallow Chrysler whole (especially bits and pieces can be had for pennies on the dollar). Nissan would end up with unneeded production capacity, outdated factories, the UAW, segment-trailing models and an executive staff that seems to excel at losing money. Other than the full-sized truck lines and Jeep, everything else would be surplus to requirements. Any thought of taking Chrysler back upscale would run headlong into Infiniti.

Nissan's supposed production agreements with Chrysler give Cerberus more credibility (i.e. time) with its financial backers. They also give Nissan a chance to see what's under the hood before the auction starts. It's a win – win situation– until someone loses. Whatever happens, that won't be Nissan.

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2 of 54 comments
  • Tassos You should call your columns "EXHUMATION OF THE DAY". FIts perfectly with this 'find'. How deep did you have to dig to exhume it? Let rotting carcasses lie!
  • Jew65711923 This is a very, very special breaking news story=============>
  • Jew65711923 NICE
  • Rng65694730 All auto makers seem to be having problems ! Still supply chain issues !
  • MrIcky I'd go 2500 before I went 1500 with a 6.2. I watched an engineer interview on the 2.7l. I appreciate that their focus on the 2.7 was to make it perform like a diesel and all of their choices including being a relatively large i4 instead of an i6 were all based around it feeling diesel like in it's torque delivery. It's all marketing at the end of the day, but I appreciated hearing the rationale. Personally I wouldnt want to tow much more than 7-8k lbs with a light truck anyway so it seems to fit the 1500 application.