Thursday, June 7, 2007

BERNHARD GETS REACQUAINTED: Cerberus consultant makes the rounds, keeps eye on Chrysler operations


Wolfgang Bernhard, a former Chrysler executive and current Cerberus consultant, has an office at the automaker's headquarters in Auburn Hills.

Wolfgang Bernhard, a former top Chrysler executive, is making his presence known around the Auburn Hills automaker's headquarters.

As a consultant for Cerberus Capital Management, the private equity firm that is supposed to take control of Chrysler later this year, Bernhard has an office in the building and is keeping an eye on operations.

Chrysler design guru Ralph Gilles said Wednesday that Bernhard recently toured Chrysler's new design studio, where the former chief operating officer exchanged high fives with designers. Gilles called the visit "like a reunion."

"It was a great vibe. It was awesome. He looked at everything. It is his right to do that -- to come in and check everything out. He was very supportive," said Gilles, a vice president in the design group.

There's been a lot of speculation about what role Bernhard, who helped guide the Chrysler Group through its previous turnaround as part of DaimlerChrysler AG, will play in the new company.

The company has emphasized that CEO Tom LaSorda is in charge and that Bernhard is there for him to call upon when needed.

Bernhard is not part of the Chrysler executive team.

The deal for Cerberus to acquire 80.1% of Chrysler is expected to be completed in July.

Gilles said the initial Feb. 14 announcement indicating that DaimlerChrysler AG might be broken up nine years after the merger was distracting for the designers at first, but they soon got back to work.

The change of Chrysler ownership "feels different" than the previous change, Gilles said. "There is definitely a huge aura of opportunity here, and we're taking advantage of it."

Gilles made his comments after delivering the keynote address at the Ward's Automotive Group's Auto Interiors Show in Detroit.

During his time on stage, Gilles said attention to interior designs has become even more important than in the past for competitive reasons.

"Interiors are becoming the battleground," he said during a question-and-answer session.

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