Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The New New New Chrysler

News that Daimler Benz is selling money-losing Chrysler Corporation to private investment firm and turnaround expert Cerberus Capital Management fills me with mixed feelings. Chrysler lost about $2 billion last year. Cerberus will pay $7.4 billion for the company. Cerberus turned around the Merwin’s department store chain, Air Canada, GMAC, and the car rental firms Alamo and National. They have lave slashed employees and brought companies out of bankruptcy. This is their biggest deal yet.

I lived in Michigan for about 25 years. Everyone knows people who work for the Big Three or for the industries that supply them and decisions made by management and the United Auto Workers dominate Michigan news. Employee ownership plans means that Dearborn is full of Fords, Flint is full of Buicks and Lansing is still full of Oldsmobiles. The Detroit Red Wings have a wheel on their jerseys. The Detroit Pistons are named for an engine part.

The old Chrysler Corporation meandered from building muscular cars to building big, bloated gas-guzzling boats when the OPEC embargo nearly killed it. The New Chrysler was bailed out by federal loan guarantees and headed by Lido Iacocca when Chrysler introduced the K Car and the Minivan. The new New Chrysler was created by Daimler Benz acquiring Chrysler. Now the acquisition by Cerberus is the new new New Chrysler. I was hoping Detroit financier Kirk Kerkorian would buy the corporation.

Daimler ownership has been a mixed blessing. Chrysler and Jeep make distinctive vehicles with superior engineering. They are more fuel-efficient. Unfortunately, the best Chrysler executives retired or were forced out by Daimler. The time from concept to development became longer, not shorter, and the company became less nimble. Many were suspicious the Germans were running Chrysler into the ground because their focus was on making and selling Mercedes Benz models. Daimler selling Chrysler to Cerberus Management is an admission that they made a mistake when they acquired Chrysler. Good riddance to Dieter Zetsche.

I have owned four Chryslers which are a microcosm of the company. The best was my first car, a 1966 Chrysler Newport. My first car after college was a 1977 Plymouth Fury, which was a Wisconsin Department of Transportation car my father bought at a state vehicle auction. Even though the energy-saving speed limit was 55 mph, I would often cruise at 85-90 mph with the assistance of a radar detector. People thought I might be a state trooper because they drove Plymouth Furies and they all slowed down and moved to the right lane. The transmission let go near Elkhart, IN, in a driving rainstorm and the car was never right after that. When I sold it, I had owned it less than four years. In movies from that era, like the “Blues Brothers,” the appearance of late 1970s Plymouth Furies means a car pile-up is coming.

I bought a 1992 Dodge Spirit in 1997 because it was cheap and had low mileage. It got nearly 30 miles per gallon of gasoline. I totalled that car in an accident in 2000 and the insurance settlement was more than I owed. I replaced it with a 1995 Plymouth which was cheap, had been a fleet car and had low mileage like the Spirit. Like the Spirit, it was a newer version of the K Car. This car has needed one major repair after another. Gas mileage is about 25 miles per gallon but it fell as low as 10 miles per gallon before another major repair. I’ve taken to calling it the Disclaim. When I am rid of it, it will be the Exclaim. I hope to never own another Chrysler. Mail offering special financing on new Chryslers goes straight into my recycling bin.

My parents and I have mostly owned General Motors vehicles. My children have only owned General Motors vehicles. My next vehicle will probably be made by General Motors.

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