By now we should know whether Chrysler won the rest of the government loans it needed to pay its clamoring creditors. And if all went according to plan, Fiat should be riding in on a white Italian stallion to save Cerberus from itself.
But right this second, I'm eating crow. It was late, I was tired, and it was live television - CNBC to be precise. Phil LeBeau, one of the most respected television reporters in the automotive realm, asked his panel of analysts and journalists at the Detroit auto show to predict the coming year for Detroit carmakers. My skull began crackling, and I swallowed hard while the big-shot East Coast analysts ahead of me offered Wiffle-ball predictions like "Detroit won't get its swagger back" and "Ford will come out ahead." It was my turn. My latent Tourette's took over, forcing me to blurt out, "Chrysler is going down!"
For some reason, I am unable to cleverly avoid saying exactly what's on my mind. This is what is known in the shallow world of TV as "excellent bite." I'm sure it is known among Chrysler executives as something else. Something like, "She bites." But then, they knew something I didn't know: Fiat was in town, and a deal was going down.
What was I supposed to think? By the end of 2008, Chrysler owed its suppliers something like $6 billion and its creditors $1 billion. In the month of December, while waiting to hear back on its request for $7 billion in government loans, Chrysler shut down its entire manufacturing operation for a month and offered a golden handshake to several top executives, including its chief marketing officer and the CEO of Asia operations.
It seemed ludicrous that Cerberus truly believed the government - which, by the way, is not smarter than a fifth grader - would throw a few billion its way as long as it was tossing a fat cash wad to General Motors. Chrysler is a privately held company, after all, which no one seemed to notice until Tennessee Senator Bob Corker brought it up, saying to Chrysler's squirming CEO, Bob Nardelli, "You want to hang around long enough so you can date somebody and hopefully get married soon before you run out of money." Well, yeah. Like my dad always said, if you don't ask, the answer is no.