GM, DCX talks serious
General Motors Corp. has been in talks for two months with DaimlerChrysler
AG about acquiring all of the troubled Chrysler Group and folding its
operations into GM, according to people familiar with the discussions.
The first contact occurred in December, when GM Chairman Rick Wagoner and
DaimlerChrysler Chief Executive Dieter Zetsche met in Detroit to discuss the
blockbuster idea of GM buying Chrysler from its German parent company.
While a deal is far from certain, at least four meetings have taken place
involving Wagoner and GM's chief financial officer, Fritz Henderson, and
Zetsche and DaimlerChrysler's CFO Bodo Uebber. Talks are said to be ongoing,
primarily between Henderson and Uebber.
Both companies declined comment Sunday.
The underlying rationale for the deal is the need for major consolidation in
the intensely competitive American auto industry, said people with knowledge
of the talks.
GM, the No. 1 U.S. automaker, is said to be interested in absorbing
Chrysler's revenue, production volume and brands, while cutting duplicative
labor costs, management and overhead.
DaimlerChrysler, for its part, is intent on dissolving the 1998 merger that
brought together the former Daimler-Benz AG and Chrysler Corp.
A GM acquisition of Chrysler would essentially reduce the Big Three to a Big
Two, with only GM and Ford Motor Co. surviving from the dozens of American
automakers that once existed in the 20th century.
As the deal has so far been discussed, Chrysler would cease to exist as a
company or a corporate subsidiary. Instead its factories, brands and
products would become part of GM's organizational structure.
But industry experts say such a deal would be fraught with risk for GM,
which is in the midst of its own turnaround.
"They're not far along enough, in my assessment, to take on something as
gigantic as absorbing Chrysler," said Gerald Meyers, a business professor at
the University of Michigan and former chairman of the AMC automaker acquired
in 1987 by Chrysler.
Wall Street analysts also have been skeptical about whether this would be a
good deal for GM, ever since last Wednesday when the talks were first
reported in Germany's Manager magazine.
"GM already has too many brands that cannibalize each other," said analyst
Brad Rubin at investment firm BNP-Paribas. "If you add three more, there's
going to be more cannibalization."
The talks, according to one source, could take months to complete. Also,
other bidders are likely to emerge for Chrysler, which lost $1.5 billion in
2006 on revenues of $62 billion.
But there is growing momentum in the discussions between GM and
At DaimlerChrysler, the negotiations are being handled in great secrecy, at
the highest levels. Company insiders say the management concluded that it
needed to sell Chrysler during the annual 10-year strategic review of its
operations, which took place in the fall.
DaimlerChrysler sources said it would be beneficial to sell the Auburn Hills
unit as a whole rather than in parts because of the health care liabilities,
which are estimated at $18 billion. Without liabilities, Banc of America
Securities puts Chrysler's value at $5 billion.
There are two crucial issues that could prevent a GM purchase from
happening: what price GM would pay for Chrysler and how the United Auto
Workers union will react to two of the Big Three automakers joining
After losing $10.6 billion in 2005, GM is in the midst of a historic
turnaround that includes slashing more than 30,000 jobs and closing several
Chrysler last week announced its own broad restructuring that will eliminate
13,000 jobs and downsize vehicle production to match its shrinking market
A combination of the two would lead to deeper cuts, according to Meyers. "If
you think the layoffs you've seen today are large, well, it's going to be a
bloodbath in Detroit and in the Midwest."
He said the Chrysler assets that would be most valuable to GM were the Jeep
brand, which could be paired with the Hummer nameplate, and its minivans.
"You could make the case that it's a good defensive move (for GM)," Meyers
said. "But it's a huge risk. There's a lot more to be lost than to be
On Wednesday, Zetsche stunned the automotive world when he said that "all
options are on the table" regarding Chrysler, including alliances with other
automakers or a possible sale.
In fact, Zetsche had begun discussing the plan of selling off Chrysler with
Wagoner in December, according to people with knowledge of the meeting.
The talks were said to be of a serious nature from the start.
Zetsche was coming under heavy pressure from German shareholders to dump
Chrysler, which has ridden a roller-coaster cycle of profits and losses
since it was acquired nine years ago.
The initial meeting with Wagoner established that GM was interested in a
While GM had hit bottom with its own losses and painful restructuring,
Wagoner and his management team had growing confidence that its turnaround
plans were on track.
Buying Chrysler would boost its volumes and revenues significantly, and
ensure that GM remained ahead of Toyota Motor Corp. as the world's biggest
automaker. In the process, Chrysler's management structure would be
eliminated and much of its staff functions taken over by GM.
GM would add the Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep brands to its corporate lineup,
and save money by spreading engineering and vehicle development costs over a
larger and broader range of products.
Together, GM and Chrysler accounted for 11.8 million vehicles sold in 2006.
Their combined U.S. market share would exceed 35 percent. And their status
as American icons would make a combination of the two a historic event in
the history of the U.S. auto industry.
GM's board of directors was said to be supportive of the discussions
continuing. DaimlerChrysler's supervisory board has already publicly
endorsed exploring "far-reaching strategic options" for Chrysler.
The wild card in any deal, however, will be the UAW. Bringing Chrysler into
GM's organizational structure would likely require union cooperation on
health care costs and staffing levels.
"If they pull a knife, you pull a gun. If they put one of yours in the
hospital, you put one of theirs in the morgue."
Sean Connery, "The Untouchables"