Editorial: Chrysler Suicide Watch 41: R.I.P.

editorial chrysler suicide watch 41 r i p

Chrysler is dead. Look for a Chapter 7 filing soon; that’s a liquidation plan, not reorganization. The judge will part-out and sell ChryCo’s few valuable assets to the highest bidders. There will be no “Hail Mary” pass to General Motors, no government rescue, no money from Cerberus to keep its corpse from the grave. Yes, the mythical three-headed dog of Hades does keep souls from escaping Hell, try as they might.

Despite GM’s desire for the $9b in cash supposedly on Chrysler’s books, the money comes with even bigger liabilities: health care, pensions, taxes, supplier obligations, the works. In fact, Chrysler is saddled with as much as $27b worth of claims. Those claimholders have no interest in letting Chrysler unwind in the hands of GM– which would keep all those claims unpaid. Better to just get it over with and pay it out now. The best idea for Chrysler is, was and will be immediate liquidation. Add the proceeds from the sale of Chryco’s assets to that cash pile and there might be as much as $20b+ to disburse.

The first ones to dine on the cash are Chrysler’s lenders, led by Goldman Sachs and JPMorganChase. They originally lent Cerberus about $10b or so to fund the acquisition from Daimler, with the hopes they could then sell the debt off to bigger schmucks. Well, they mostly failed at selling it, unloading only a portion, maybe about 40 percent (or so we’ve heard) at discount to some greater fools.

The banks are still stuck with the rest and they aren’t happy about it. If you were a sane banker in troubled financial times, would you transfer your repayment risk to General Motors, an equal if not even worse credit than Chrysler today? GM was counting on a government loan to GM to pay these lenders off– or at least guarantee their debt. Give Hank Paulson credit; he simply said “no way.” The Feds aren’t gonna take the heat for paying Wall Street off while jobs are lost.

So no, the bankers will never agree to a GM-Chryco Motors tie up. Better for them to take the priority position they get in liquidation today and take what they can. After all, Chrysler’s cash pile only gets smaller every day Chrysler continues to operate.

The second group that has a claim on Chrysler’s cash: vehicle owners. Yep, warranty claims out into the future. Remember, most recent vintage Chrysler vehicles (in service beginning in 8/07 and later) have powertrain for life warranties. The bankruptcy judge has to set aside funds to cover those claims. Say… $3b worth.

The third group: labor. The United Auto Workers (UAW) negotiated a contract that requires Chrysler to shovel $10b into a health care trust (a.k.a. VEBA) for retirees. Even the UAW wasn’t crazy enough let GM takeover Chrysler and absorb this liability when GM can’t even pay what it promised to the union. In any case, this is an unsecured claim. It’s doubtful the UAW could legally stop a sale to GM, but they can make life unpleasant for an automaker. Heck if the workers are going to lose their jobs anyway, they might as well get what they can now for retirees.

And last: working capital claims for the balance. Unpaid vendors, employee wind downs, taxes, and the rest. Maybe another $4b or so. All told, $27 billion in claims against the cash plus whatever the Court can sell the rest of the assets for. Call it $10 to $15b. Best of all, assets sold out of bankruptcy come with no liability tail for the buyer, which make them much more attractive. No pension obligations, no warranty claims, no retiree health care. Clean and simple. And you don’t even have to take the UAW contract!

I reckon that there are four major components of Chrysler that will get sold. First, the Jeep brand. Although known worldwide, it really has only has one unique product (the Wrangler). But it’s cheap to build, generates a ton of profit per vehicle and will never go out of style. Yep, wrap that up. Maybe it’s worth $3b?

Second, the minivan biz. Already having consolidated assembly in one plant (Windsor), it’s easy to just supply other automakers like GM and VW. Hmm, do I hear Magna calling? So let’s say it’s worth $5b.

Third, RAM trucks hecho in Mexico. Nissan needs a truck and they’ve already agreed to buy their next Titan built in Chrysler’s Saltillo plant. Ok, so maybe it’s 100k units per year only. Might as well buy the plant and the rights to the truck. How much did it cost Toyota to develop the Tundra and build its now underutilized San Antonio truck plant? Let’s put a $2b price tag on this.

And fourth, Chrysler’s parts supply division. I don’t know how many Chryco rigs are on the road, but they’re going to need parts for a long time. Existing parts inventory that’s worth something plus profits from sales that will continue for years. So we’ll put a $1b price tag there.

So are you getting my drift now? There’s no GM-Chrysler deal ever. The government can’t stomach funding a deal where jobs are lost with taxpayer money. Better to shut Chrysler down in bankruptcy, and let Cerberus lick its wounds. Those jobs were going to be lost with or without GM in the picture.

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2 of 62 comments
  • 285exp I am quite sure that it is a complete coincidence that they have announced a $7k price increase the same week that the current administration has passed legislation extending the $7k tax credit that was set to expire. Yep, not at all related.
  • Syke Is it possible to switch the pure EV drive on and off? Given the wonderful throttle response of an EV, I could see the desirability of this for a serious off-roader. Run straight ICE to get to your off-roading site, switch over the EV drive during the off-road section, then back to ICE for the road trip back home.
  • ToolGuy Historical Perspective Moment:• First-gen Bronco debuted in MY1966• OJ Simpson Bronco chase was in 1994• 1966 to 1994 = 28 years• 1994 to now = 28 yearsFeel old yet?
  • Ronnie Schreiber From where is all that electricity needed to power an EV transportation system going to come? Ironically, the only EV evangelist that I know of who even mentions the fragile nature of our electrical grid is Elon Musk. None of the politicians pushing EVs go anywhere near it, well, unless they are advocating for unreliable renewables like wind and solar.
  • FreedMike I just don’t see the market here - I think about 1.2% of Jeep drivers are going to be sold on the fuel cost savings here. And the fuel cost savings are pretty minimal, per the EPA: https://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/PowerSearch.do?action=noform&path=1&year1=2022&year2=2022&make=Jeep&baseModel=Wrangler&srchtyp=ymm&pageno=1&rowLimit=50Annual fuel costs for this vehicle are $2200 and $2750 for the equivalent base turbo-four model. I don’t get it.