It seems only yesterday they were the masters of the universe. Yet just yesterday, literally, my friends at Citibank fired an e-mail my way, inviting me to take advantage of exclusive "access to great concerts, dining, sporting events, and more." Translation: the bank won't loan money to me or anyone else, by rights it is bankrupt, yet when it's not busy jacking up credit card interest rates to usurious heights or lobbying for more bailout money, Citi makes time to suggest expensive ticket purchases for selected events that valued idiots - I mean, customers like me - might care to see, such as Kevin Nealon in the round (Citi's suggestion). All so I can pay them an additional charge.
Now there's a recovery plan for you.
It's against this pitifully sad, surreal, and shape-shifting backdrop - pervasive today, as corporate America falls flailing from on high - that one must evaluate the news that Chrysler plans to merge with Fiat.
Take a moment with us to recall how absurd this proposition would have sounded twenty years ago. Back then, the U.S. auto industry and the media covering it went around telling everybody who'd listen that the Europeans' failure to compete in the U.S. market - indeed any car company's unwillingness or inability to field a full line of cars here - was a sign of their lack of manly vigor, their unfitness for the twenty-first century, and, in the case of Fiat, the pudding proof of Italian firms' classic aversion to cost accounting and other forms of basic business discipline. Cue self-satisfied harrumphing about overpaid workers, overhead camshafts, and creeping socialist tendencies, such as national health care.
Except who's laughing now? OK, maybe not laughing, just not blubbering quite so loudly? Yes, it's those frivolous Europeans. They may be running to their own governments for assistance, but at least they're set up to build more efficient cars, which is surely what will be required of any American car company that survives, especially with the major stakes now held by the United States of Barack Obama.
A Fiat-Chrysler hookup would have sounded funny even a few years ago, when General Motors paid $2 billion to not marry Fiat, a sort of reverse dowry. As many observed at the time, it was a bargain . . . for both parties. But Chrysler has different needs than GM. It may call its preferred fate a merger, but it's more accurately described as becoming part of Fiat. Funny thing is, the deal actually makes sense.