Friday, July 13, 2007

Chrysler: Let the Celebration Begin?

By Christopher A. Sawyer, Executive EditorChristopher's BioWrite Christopher

A recent media drive at Chrysler’s Chelsea, MI, proving ground proved to be something of a love fest between Chrysler employees and their soon to be new owners at Cerberus. Beyond the expected "Thank God we don’t have to deal with speculation about ownership anymore" remarks, there was an easiness that has been missing from recent events that permeated the ranks of all the Chrysler participants. One engineer told me, "I came here 17 years ago because this was the company that put concept cars into production, and had a certain swagger. The past 10 years under the control of our ‘German friends’ hasn’t been so nice. I hope that with Cerberus we can get that swagger back."

Others – especially those on the Jeep side of the house – wondered about rumors that Cerberus is interested in buying Jaguar and Land Rover. "Those brands would give us an upmarket and global reach we don’t have right now," said one engineer, while his Jeep compatriot chimed in with, "And it could work to our advantage to have the two top names in off-roading under one roof and at different ends of the market." I don’t claim to know if their speculation is just hopefulness or folly. At this point, the reaction seems similar to that of a partner after the dissolution of a particularly bad relationship: relief. From that relief springs hope that the new relationship can’t possibly be as bad as the old, especially when the old partner – according to the aggrieved party – was overbearing and domineering.

Asked about the cost of changing the signs from "DaimlerChrysler" to just "Chrysler" one engineer noted that, "It’d take no time with a chain saw, and doing that would not only cost us very little money, the extra space before the Chrysler name would remind everybody of why we don’t ever want to go down that road again." It was enough to give you the impression that, despite Daimler’s nearly 20% share in the new company, the rules of engagement were going to be very different this time around. "Perhaps we can find a one-way street near our headquarters," said the Jeep engineer, "and name it 'Shremp Strasse' on one end and 'Eaton Boulevard' on the other, with the directional signs pointing toward a roundabout in the middle. That would about sum up what this merger has been like."

It was at this point that I decided to make myself scarce for fear that, if the conversation went on much longer, someone in the group was going to grab one of the Sebring convertibles sitting around and re-enact the last scene from the movie Thelma and Louise. I’ll admit it’s nice to see the spring return to the step of the Chrysler folks, but I hope it’s real and not a false dawn for the folks from Auburn Hills.

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