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A Little Business Talk

Stephen Feinberg, hermit king of Cerberus Capital Management, has laid his thoughts bare in a letter. As reported by Andrew Ross Sorkin in the February 19 New York Times, Mr. Feinberg has in so many words declared that really turning Chrysler around might or might not be job #1. As if Chrysler could be dissolved like so much aspirin and Cerberus would just keep on truckin’. No mention of what happens to all those pesky employees, their families or the paychecks and insurance and pensions they count on. In hedge fund speak those employee obligations are called “liabilities”.

The letter in question was leaked and went around the Wall Street circuit like news of free beer at a frathouse. “Aw crap,” Feinberg must’ve grumbled, and then put his team to work on the feel good sequel letter in an attempt to counter any weak stomachs. It just makes you wonder why Cerberus media man, John W. Snow, went to so much trouble suggesting in a prepared statement last July that somehow impending CAFÉ standards could drag a company down. Was that a hint so early in the game, despite statements to the contrary, that Cerberus was not exactly confident in the future of Chrysler? It certainly isn’t confidence inspiring to know that the former deputy secretary of the Energy Department and former head of GE and Home Depot, Robert L. Nardelli, is now the chief executive of Chrysler. Nardelli, on the government to private sector money go ‘round, left Home Depot with a staggering $252 million dollar parachute that left shareholders feeling a bit rough. Very smelly.

So, what is the really big news at Chrysler these days? Oh yeah, the new Dodge Challenger. Great! It looks cool as hell. There hasn’t been a roofline like that since 1974. They even kept the chisled quarter glass originally borrowed from the first generation Camaro. Overall the Challenger looks more ‘Cuda and that is a good thing. Over 400hp can’t be bad and if the brake/suspension package measures up it should be a hell of a ride. Hopefully the tuners will be all over it and so will the public.

But can it save the Corporation? Will the car-buying public mob the dealerships for a high performance throwback to the early ‘70’s? It remains to be seen and with the price of gas who knows what will happen after the glow of the enthusiast and collector rush fades.

I recently went looking for answers, and got none, on the Chrysler website which was frankly, lame. As far as getting into the alternative fuel game there is some news of the Corp. getting its feet wet…a bit late but it’s a start nonetheless.

Finally there are several vehicles touted as achieving 30mpg on the highway, sadly none better than that. The Cummins diesel package in the big pickups is still an impressive value and the minivans are rollin’ along. Still no true compact. Maybe the idea is to position Chrysler as some kind of maker of up-scale, niche and enthusiast vehicles and trucks? D’aaaahhhh, I don’t know.

Where is the vision and leadership it takes to improve a company and make it profitable for everyone from the factory floor to the glass tower? Where the hell is a ’64 Dodge Dart or a Plymouth Golduster, or even a friggin’ K-Car when ya need one? Where is the good dollar value, dependable and thrifty car John Q. Public really can and will buy as opposed to the car he wishes he could buy and won’t? 

It rattled me back when Cerberus bought Chrysler and I hope my fears are proven unfounded. I only hope the answer won’t be found in some polluted province of China or beyond the gates of Hell. Only Cerberus, the three headed canine keeper of that gate knows the answer.  

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