Chrysler and Fiat Alliance

Wonder of wonders, Chrysler got $4 billion. Unfortunately, it was still short $3 billion. This would not be money to fund a tomorrow; it was money already owed. You could speculate from there (and I did) that nothing was going to happen until Obama's inauguration, and if no money was forthcoming from the new administration, the next move would be bankruptcy. Because what company would make an offer until Chrysler shed some of its financial and UAW obligations, right? Yes, Chrysler was going down.

Chrysler president Jim Press called me a week later with the Fiat news. "We didn't plan to announce this on the day of the inauguration," he said. "But someone close to the negotiations leaked it over the weekend." Frankly, after my on-air proclamation, I couldn't believe he was even speaking to me.

Press laid out everything that has been unfolding in the media: It's a nonbinding agreement to create a single global entity that would allow Fiat to manufacture its cars in Chrysler's unused facilities and to sell them through Chrysler's dealer infrastructure here. Chrysler would have access to a variety of good engines and excellent small-car platforms (the Fiat 500 and the Alfa Romeo MiTo and 147 replacement among them), as well as global outlets to sell its trucks and Jeeps. The deal covers everything Fiat makes except Ferrari - that is, Lancia, Alfa Romeo, and Maserati. Joint purchasing would be part of the arrangement as well.

"The deal is 35 percent in kind, no cash, and begins when we emerge from our restructuring," Press told me. In simple terms, if Chrysler qualifies for the last $3 billion, it meets the terms of the Fiat deal. The Fiat share can grow substantially, although none of it is coming from the 19.9 percent still held by Daimler. A restructuring plan is due in Washington by February 17, and Chrysler has some heavy negotiating ahead - with the UAW, suppliers, Daimler, and banks.

"The great thing is, Fiat wants to help with those negotiations. We're really excited about that, because they've done similar restructuring recently, and we can benefit from that experience," says Press.

The bad thing is, Fiat needs money, too. But every car company is in crisis today, either asking for or receiving government assistance. Any buddy in this crisis is better than no buddy at all. (And bringing up that old Fix It Again Tony sobriquet is as outdated as Washington's misconceptions about Detroit.) From an enthusiast's standpoint, this is a solid marriage, one last chance to get that Chrysler's TC by Maserati right.

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