Editorial: Chrysler Suicide Watch 42: La Grande Bugia

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago
editorial chrysler suicide watch 42 la grande bugia

Breaking news: Fiat has just signed a “non-binding term sheet” with ChryCo. The Italian automaker will acquire a 35 percent interest in Chrysler for… nothing. No cash. No assets. Niente. And yet the Chrysler – Fiat deal comes complete with the United Auto Workers’ (UAW) blessing. It’s a nice thought: a global alliance to pull Chrysler’s fat from the fire, save the taxpayer’s bacon and uncook the UAW’s golden goose. But there’s zero chance of Fiat riding to the rescue of Chrysler. It’s just another part of Chrysler’s Big Lie.

Adolph Hitler said The Big Lie was effective because most people “would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation.” In this case, the lie is the idea that Chrysler is a viable automaker.

The fact that the company is utterly bankrupt without any chance of recovery is, obviously, besides the point. As long as there is hope that Chrysler has a future, the general public and their fear-mongering elected representatives will cling to the fiction that Chrysler can– indeed should– continue to exist.

To perpetuate that myth, to protect its federal lifeline, Chrysler must generate plausible possibility. Hence the stream of “news” coming out of Auburn Hills in recent weeks. Canada’s Magna Corporation may purchase Chrysler’s minivan plant. Nissan may produce a small car for Chrysler, and rebadge Dodge Ram pick-up trucks as Titans. A Chinese carmaker may buy unwanted (not to say unused) tooling for the soon-to-dead PT Cruiser. And now… Fiat buys into Chrysler.

In reality, Magna may want Chrysler’s Windsor minivan plant, but the company isn’t stupid enough to pay anything for it. Not when they can pick it up for pennies on the dollar after ChryCo’s collapse. In reality, Nissan is in deep trouble; it’s not going to build anything for Chrysler without [non-existent] cash on the nail. It’s also in no position to remount an attack on a market segment that’s both crowded and cratered (just ask Toyota).

In reality, China doesn’t need the PT Cruiser. And in reality, the Fiat deal has nothing to offer. Without any cash investment by the Italian automaker, without a single production-ready Italian vehicle on the horizon to lure Americans into empty, abandoned Chrysler showrooms, this non-deal does nothing whatsoever to ensure Chrysler’s long term viability.

The underlying causation for this non-news is simple enough. Lipstick. Pig. Apply.

On February 17, Chrysler will present their term paper to Congress: “How I Spent Uncle Sam’s $4b” (a.k.a. “The Three Headed Dog Ate my Automaker”). Chrysler’s representatives will attempt to prove that the company can [now] be restructured and resurrected to live a long, happy life. See? Things are happening! We’re building for the future!

Of course, Chrysler’s “business plan” was, is and will be complete BS.

CEO Bob Nardelli knew Chrysler was doomed to the dole back in December, back when he told Congress his employer could turnaround Chrysler’s fortunes with “just” $7b worth of federal loans. As is the way of such things, that was then. This is now. By mid-February, Boot ’em Bob’s boys will unveil phase II of their grand plan for Chrysler’s renaissance: get out of the manufacturing business.

The new plan is the same as the original plan: keep the brands and distribution network. Sell vehicles made by others rebadged as Chryslers. Limited capital and engineering required.

Meanwhile and in any case, Chrysler needs the same lifeblood as any other going enterprise: cash. Badge engineering and branding be damned; new car sales aren’t going to provide Chrysler with the funds it needs to sustain its operations and pay for its ongoing liabilities. Not now. Not later. Most likely, never. Asset sales won’t do the job, either. And Fiat’s sure as Hell not providing operational liquidity.

Blow away the smoke, pack away the mirrors, allow owner Cerberus to insulate themselves from accountability for their actions, and it’s clear that Chrysler has one source– and one source only– of cash: the U.S. taxpayer.

As any good politician knows, to fool some of the people all of the time, you need to change your story frequently. In other words, The Big Lie must be sustained by a steady diet of big ideas.

When it comes to Chrysler’s ongoing call on the public purse, the biggest of these is the Chrysler – GM merger. The concept: forget Chrysler and GM. We need to save American manufacturing! This American Leyland strategy is a stupendously bad plan which would make The General like Citibank: a company too big to fail with operating divisions that can never be properly integrated.

Which is exactly why it’ll happen.

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2 of 48 comments
  • Davey49 Davey49 on Jan 21, 2009

    American factories are excellent, all problems lie in management and engineering

  • U mad scientist U mad scientist on Jan 22, 2009
    if/once chrysler becomes profitable, fiat has the option of obtaining an additional 20% stake in the company for only $25m ....so under this scenario, fiat could end up with 55% of chrysler at a total cash outlay is only $25 million - while u.s. taxpayers contribute several billion but obtain no ownership whatsoever. A pretty crummy deal for us. I guess the only consolation is it'll never come to that since they'll never be profitable.

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