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Fiat, GM and Chrysler: What Needs to Happen

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Chrysler and Fiat logos

Chrysler and Fiat logos

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The news isn't good, if you're following GM and Chrysler spin towards some inevitable fate. GM is likely headed for a date in bankruptcy court--and Chrysler is looking at liquidation, according to today's headlines.

General Motors is preparing for bankruptcy while it also tries to negotiate its way around a pre-packaged filing. In the past week, it's become clearer that Chapter 11 is more likely. The good news is, GM probably can make it out of a reorganization. There's reasonable assurance a business can be made of Chevrolet and Cadillac, possibly with Buick and GMC still attached. Out of the picture as of last word and most likely scenarios? HUMMER, Saab, Holden, probably Vauxhall too, and Saturn and Opel.

It's the last two that are bedeviling the deal between Fiat and Chrysler, I think. More than the impossibility of getting a takeover accomplished on paper by the end of next week, it simply doesn't make sense for Fiat to strap on a bloated, teetering entity like the current Chrysler. Fiat probably knows this know--if they didn't know it from the start of talks. Opel, packaged with Saturn, makes a much more attractive option for the Italian car company.

So what does make sense in this end of days for two of the Big Three? It's simple. Fiat takes on Opel and Saturn--as the latest news from Europe suggests may happen--and GM takes on what's best from Chrysler, with Ford possibly buying some assets.

A few months ago I made a case for splitting up Chrysler's assets between Ford and GM. My plan would save some jobs at some factories and some engineering, design and manufacturing expertise. Between the Jeep and Dodge brands, a handful of model lines from the Wrangler to the minivans and possibly the Viper, there's a magnitude of market share waiting to be acquired and integrated by one of the domestic car companies--not to mention a highly integrated headquarters and design center in Auburn Hills, Michigan.

Ford doesn't need the distraction of a total takeover. It's busy cutting costs and converting debt and moving solidly into an image of environmental awareness and quality. GM needs the market share and some of the products--probably not the distraction, but the market share would help. Marrying most of Chrysler off to GM would package a lot of the problems together, but also would save some tarnished assets from destruction.

So what about Opel and Saturn and Fiat? While Fiat dithers with Chrysler and the April 30 deadline looms, it should take this moment to walk away. Why take on a huge financial and legal mess with too many factories and too many vehicle lines and too many dealers? The real opportunity for Fiat is in taking over Opel, with Saturn by extension. Merge Opel and Fiat products a few years down the road, regain some status in Europe--and keep the products in the pipeline to feed your new right-sized U.S. distribution network, Saturn.

Saturn Logo

Saturn Logo

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Saturn makes the most sense for Fiat, and of all, it's the GM brand on the block that's worth saving. You can't replicate new showrooms, pricing power and loyal shoppers who care less about the cars and more about the experience. The footprint's a lot smaller than Chrysler's--and for a change, Fiat could sell cars under a brand name that's gone a long way to pleasing customers and making them feel good about their new car. If you ever ventured into a Fiat showrooms in the late 1970s, you know why they're not here today.

Car shoppers should know that, no matter what, their warranties are going to be honored. Deal hounds should see now as the perfect moment to get a once-in-a-generation deal on a new vehicle.
The titles and egos involved in this game know it's a titanic effort to save two sinking ships. It's winnable. Send Opel to Fiat instead and keep Chrysler at home. It will save jobs, save time and effort, and in the end, it will save some dignity for an industry that's lost almost all face with American car shoppers.

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Comments (12)
  1. "TOTALLY disagree ! ! !"

    Whether or not Fiat buys bits of Chrysler before or after the inevitable bankruptcy, Chrysler gives them a dealer network and factories.
    And the same can be said for Saturn + Opel. But remember it is far, far more painful to close excess capacity in Europe (which Fiat + Opel would require) than here.
    And I have got to think that the very smart guys on the Obama panel know that if GM is being forced to divest itself of losing brands and excess dealers, acquiring Chrysler makes ZERO sense for precisely the same reasons.
    What's left at Chrysler? They no longer have the in-house expertise to design passenger cars. So the *possibly* useful pieces are:
    (1) Jeep: The parasite that always kills it host (cf. Willys, Kaiser, AMC, Chrysler). Someone will buy it but if GM is ditching Hummer, taking on Jeep makes little sense. Plus, Jeep is only really 3 vehicles: Grand Cherokee, Wrangler, and maybe a Liberty. The last two can't really platform-share with unibody crossovers, so they'll get more costly.
    (2) Minivans: Maybe. But GM is doing nicely with their big crossovers and has little ones on the way. Would minivans really add incremental profit?
    (3) Dodge Ram pickups: Fine for Nissan to pick up, but GM has Chevy + GMC, so no way.
    (4) RWD platform: Nice one, ex-Mercedes E-Class, but aging. And GM has one of these and killed broader plans for it due to CAFE.
    On the negative side:
    (1) Chrysler's dealer body is AS bloated as GM's on lower volume, and similarly located in the wrong places.
    (2) I'd argue that the Chrysler and Dodge brands for cars have ZERO value. Dodge because it has made mostly crappy cars for years, Chrysler because it equals bankruptcy.
    (3) Chrysler has no technology that GM wants. Nada.
    Plus, there is zero guarantee that Chrysler's customers would move to GM en masse. There's a higher likelihood than for Subaru, say, but once their brands were gone, they'd probably fan out across the market just like ... you know ... everyone else.
    So if it isn't already obvious, I don't get your argument at all. GM doesn't need market share; it needs to be able to build desirable cars AT A PROFIT. Bolting on the corpse of Chrysler does NOTHING toward that goal.
    Here endeth the rant.
     
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  2. "Interesting proposal..."

    Marty, this is a very interesting proposal. I honestly hadn't thought of the Opel/Saturn co-packaging idea, but it makes total sense. The local dealer body should be happy with such a deal if it were to occur. We'll see...
     
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  3. "Interesting proposal..."

    Wow, John. Tell us how you really feel! LOL.
     
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  4. "Not the angle I thought"

    John - I'm not suggesting GM take all of Chrysler, bad and good. I see a good/bad scenario for the inevitable filing, doing away with GM's bad too--why not lump in Chrysler's bad, Chapter 7 that part, and keep the good in one lump? GMC should be commercial only. Ram has more volume I think. Minivans still own 40 percent of their niche, better than 10 percent of the crossover niche for GM's (of which 2 will have to go away).
     
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  5. "so merge then split up into good and bad?"

    Marty: I think what you're saying, then, is to merge the two companies before the inevitable bankruptcies and put most of Chrysler into "bad GM"?
    I'd argue GM would do better to let Chrysler go belly-up (if Fiat doesn't close a deal) and buy selected, individual pieces.
    PICKUPS: Still don't think GM would acquire them. If they're being told not to badge-engineer GMCs, why badge-engineer Dodges? And Chevy + GMC pickup volme > Ford volume, just under 2 brands. Dodge is a *distant* 3rd in that two-horse race, with less than 50% of either of the others.
    MINIVANS: Yeah, maybe, if they could pull off the tough challenge of building minivans & crossovers on the same platform. Only Honda has pulled that off so far.
    RWD CARS: No, see earlier post.
    JEEP: I just don't think so, though stranger things have happened. It's the only place where they could conceivably pick up market share, since Jeep owners ARE loyal.
    GMC: Unclear if it's going away. GM says it's profitable, and the incremental pickup volume pushes them over Ford in total units. Plus they have the commercial dealers anyway, unless they sell that part of the business--in which case the new owner would want them to supply pickups anyway, and they'd want to for volume reasons.
    BUICK: Not going away either, globally anyway. Too valuable for China. It could get sent to Opel/Vauxhall, though, but I keep reading that its Chinese brand image would get hammered if it's shut down in N.A.
    So, why go through the added complexity of merging? Let GM get what it needs out of Chapter 7.
     
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  6. "Makes Sense"

    I totally agree with bundling Opel/Vauxhall with Saturn, but I think they should include Holden as well. The only cars that are exclusively Holdens are the RWD models built mainly for the Austrailian market (and the G8) so not only would they get the small and medium expertise from Europe, but the large RWD expertise from down under too. The resulting company would be far better suited to survive in the global marketplace.
     
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  7. "GM/Chrysler Bondholders and Other Things"

    I think GM and Chrysler Bondholders are crazy. They don't seem to realize that their resistence to swap debt for equity will have them end up with little or nothing in bankruptcy. They are dumb! In discussion, I have heard nothing regarding GM Daewoo. Will the Korean Government be taking it over to save jobs? I could see a spin off joining Opel, Saturn, Saab, Vauxhall, Holden, and maybe even Hummer to boot being headquartered in Germany. This way Opel would put fuel efficient diesels into Hummers -- something GM in its foolishness just refused to do. As for Chrysler, in liquidation, it can be acquired by Mitsubishi, since the Fiat match is destined for failure. To Mitsubishi, cars are not the big wheel in the conglomerate. This is the reason that Mitsubishi cars still survive, even in North America. There is a deep and long history between them and Chrysler. Mitsubishi provided such vehicles as Dodge Colts and Eagle Talons in the past when the Mitsubishi was establishing a brand foothold in North America. They once shared the factory in Normal Illinois as a joint venture, Diamond Star Motors. Chrysler once owned 10% of Mitsubishi's car business. Most Chrysler small vehicles are currently based on Mitsubishi platforms. Specifically, the Jeep Compass and Patriot and Dodge Caliber are sisters with the Mitsubishi Lancer/Evo and Outlander. Also, the Dodge Avenger and Chrysler Sebring are sisters with the Mitsubishi Galant. The only issue is that Chrysler made a choice in not getting the most refined or best interior parts and engines. If Mitsubishi took over, the small vehicles could be upgraded with what Mitsubishi is currently not sharing with Chrysler. For instance, the Dodge Avenger could be slickly re-skinned and loaded up to Evo X level. Also, the PT Cruiser body could be mounted on the Evo X platform to give it extreme zoom-zoom along with all wheel drive to go in any weather. Same goes for the Caliber. Mitsubishi could bring over and certify fuel efficient clean diesels for both Mitsubishis and Chryslers. As for Chrysler large vehicles and the Jeep Grand, they should continue riding those Mercedes E-Class and M-Class platforms for all their worth, including producing the Chrysler 200 off of the E-Class platform. Also, Chrysler should be first in line to build in one of its underused plants that fuel efficient clean diesel four cylinder engine that Mercedes in developing for use in the C and E-Class models, in Europe and in North America. Furthermore, GM should ditch the Delta platform for the Chevy Cruze and put that body atop the Toyota Corolla platform (including interiors and engines) through its joint venture with Toyota, NUMMI. This way GM will get instant best in class quality and reliability rating along with there being no question that the vehicle will be equal to the competition. The Chevy HHR body could also be moved from the Delta platform and put atop the Toyota Matrix/Pontiac Vibe platform for the same reason. These moves could also result in them obtaining the Hybrid Synergy Drive systems for these vehicles to make these vehicle fuel economy ratings nearly best in class.
     
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  8. "Look At The BIG Picture !"

    The government has targeted the domestiv auto manufacturers because of the money they owe overseas counties ,such as China ! They owe China 9 trillion dollars ,but where is it going to come from ? The government wants the big three to fail ,this way foreign companies casn come and pick up[ all the pieces ! In doing so ,without domestic autos,there won't be any competition ,which in turn will drive up the prices of their foreign cars ,and nobody will be able to stop them !
     
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  9. "Crazy"

    GM is crazy to let go of Opel/Vauxhaul. Without a European distribution arm and a means to share platforms and costs accross a number of brands, GM will just wither and die. GM will have no source of small and medium cars without Opel/Vauxhall. GM will be stupid to let them go. SAAB yes, Hummer OK but Opel/Vauxhall will be key to its future. Without it GM will just become Chrysler, stuck with selling cars only in the US and that is a bigger recipe for disaster down the track.
    Saturn makes a lot mor sense for Fiat than Chrysler for selling FIAT types products, is more funky and different like FIAT. The thing is though FIAT may want Chrysler so it can co-develop rear-drive platforms to share with Alfa Romeo. Chrysler though is not a good fit for FIATs small cars as it is not known for small cars.
    There is no value at all in Chrysler for GM, every it builds GM already builds. It ain't going to happen.
    My view let Chrysler die, go the way of duesenberg, Hudson, Desoto and Studebaker. It is better for GM and Ford that Chrysler dies, while they won't pick up all of their former customers they can at least some.
    And what's this with selling Holden?
     
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  10. "They absolutely DO have a small-car source other than Opel ..."

    @Reece:
    ... it's called GM-Daewoo, which as an earlier poster points out supplies the small car technology for GM's global vehicles.
    These include the Chevy Aveo, the upcoming Chevy Cruze, and the Saturn Vue (known as the Opel Antara in Europe).
    Thus far, the only small cars from or based on Opel designs to be sold in the US have been the Saturn Aura and Saturn Astra. Neither has come close to meeting its projections, though whether that's the fault of the cars or the Saturn brand image is debatable.
    Personally I don't think GM should lose control of Opel either, but if you have to choose, it may be that GM-Daewoo is strategically more important to GM North America than Opel is.
     
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  11. "More is better? How does that work?"

    GM has too many brands (and too many dealers, factories, etc) as it is, how is adding more to the mix a good idea? The only valuable pieces in Chrysler are the Jeep line (some of it) and the Ram. The minivan market is getting killed by crossovers right now, and Caravans only move because of deep discounts. Mazda, Ford and GM have all exited the minivan market, and VW is apparently getting out after 1 model year. I would expect Nissan to exit as well (I can't remember the last time I saw a Quest on the road). Toyota and Honda still sell some minivans, but not nearly as many as they did even a couple of years ago (even accounting for sales drops overall, their share of the "family mover" market seems to have dropped). As pointed out before, GM doesn't need the Ram (it would be better for them if it just disappeared, buying it still saddles them with legacy maintenance costs). Dropping Hummer and buying Jeep doesn't make sense for GM.
    I do agree that GM giving up Opel/Vauxhall isn't a very smart idea: its where GM is going to get their best small cars, it keeps them with a significant foothold in Europe, and they stand to be profitable early when things do turn around. Keeping Holden shouldn't be a big deal, because its largely a regional brand. Buick is huge in China, so it could become a regional brand for the Chinese market. Focus on Chevrolet and Cadillac, maybe GMC.
    I suspect it wouldn't be viable, but I thought it would be cool if someone could take the Jeep, Ram and Hummer lines and combine them into a niche offroad/backcountry/sportsmen-type truck maker. There would need to be some trimming of models, and it would probably best to just call the whole thing "Jeep" since it has the best brand recognition. But imagine a line with the Wrangler, Liberty, Grand Cherokee, H3T, H2 and Ram? Probably not financially viable, but it would look cool :-).
     
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  12. "Your theory"

    Hey marty, it looks your whole theory on what would/should happen did not really pan out. Looks like all is well with a Chrysler Fiat deal, outside banruptcy, with jobs saved and a plan that passed the scrutiny of the US treasury (advised by Boston Consulting), Fiat's Board and the Chrysler /Cerberus leadership.
    Enough of the armchair analysis pal..
     
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