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Fiat closes Chrysler deal

June 9, 2009 by  
Filed under Club

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MILAN/DETROIT (Reuters) – Italian carmaker Fiat SpA closed its takeover of Chrysler on Wednesday, sealing the deal on Fiat’s ambitious move to create a growing global player following one of the worst crises in the auto industry’s history.

In a victory for the U.S. administration driving the restructuring of bankrupt Chrysler, the Supreme Court on Tuesday denied a request from Indiana pension funds to delay the sale.

Fiat Chief Executive Sergio Marchionne will become CEO of Chrysler. The automaker’s former CEO, Bob Nardelli, will leave the company and return to Cerberus Capital, its former majority owner.

Chrysler’s former vice chairman and president, Jim Press, will become Marchionne’s deputy chief executive, and Fiat’s chief financial officer, Richard Palmer, will become CFO of the new company.

In a memo to employees, Marchionne voiced optimism about the new company’s outlook.

“There is no doubt in my mind that we will get the job done,” he said. He called the alliance a “bold first step to implement” lessons learned.

He added that Fiat will begin the process of transferring Fiat’s technology, platforms and powertrains to Chrysler plants in the next few months.

Fiat is joined by a union-aligned trust and the U.S. and Canadian governments in taking over the best parts of Chrysler.

Fiat shares were up 4.85 percent at 7.79 euros following news that the U.S. Supreme Court had removed the final obstacle to the deal on Tuesday.

DROP IN SALES

Fiat began looking for partners to gain scale late last year when the auto crisis intensified, leading to a dramatic drop in car sales.

CSM Worldwide, an industry consultancy, has forecast a 20 percent drop in global production to 52 million vehicles this year as carmakers lay off workers and leave their factories idle in the face of a sharp drop in demand.

Others in the industry do not feel the urgency to look for partners. Renault-Nissan Chief Executive Carlos Ghosn, for example, said on Wednesday his group had no problem with scale.

In Fiat’s case, CSM Worldwide said it saw a “tremendous amount of risk” in trying to revive Chrysler.

Not only did it have to renew an aging product line but also persuade former customers to buy a Chrysler again.

Fiat has sent a team of executives and engineers to Detroit to work with Chrysler to cut costs and prepare for the U.S. launch of the Cinquecento (500), Fiat’s popular small car.

Its stake in Chrysler will start at 20 percent and should rise to 35 percent over time.

GERMANY

Fiat has had a harder time of persuading German auto and government officials of its plans to create a world giant in car industry.

It lost out to Canadian car parts maker Magna International for General Motors Corp’s Opel unit although the government invited it to improve its bid.

The sale is part of GM’s restructuring, which caused it to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on June 1 after Chrysler did the same on April 30.

Erich Merkle, an independent auto analyst based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, said the court’s decision on Chrysler was good news for GM because it was using a similar quick-sale strategy to facilitate its way through bankruptcy.

Top U.S. court blocks Chrysler sale to Fiat

June 7, 2009 by  
Filed under Club

iphoto_1244492179191-1-0jpgWASHINGTON – Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Monday delayed Chrysler’s sale of most of its assets to a group led by Italy’s Fiat, but didn’t say how long the deal will remain on hold.

Ginsburg said in an order that the sale is “stayed pending further order,” indicating that the delay may only be temporary.

Chrysler LLC has said the sale must close by June 15, or Fiat Group SpA has the option to walk away, leaving the Auburn Hills, Mich., automaker with little option but to liquidate.

The longer the deal is delayed, the longer Chrysler’s plants in both the U.S. and Canada will remain closed. The automaker shut down its U.S. operations when it filed for bankruptcy protection at the end of April, and its Canadian operations were soon forced to follow suit due to a shortage of parts. Chrysler said at the time the plants would be shuttered for 30 to 60 days.

Chrysler employs approximately 7,500 Canadians at assembly plants in the southern Ontario cities of Windsor and Brampton and a parts plant in Toronto.

A federal appeals court in New York approved the sale Friday but gave opponents until 4 p.m. eastern time Monday to try to get the Supreme Court to intervene. Ginsburg issued her order right before the deadline.

Ginsburg could decide on her own whether to end the delay, or she could ask the full court to decide. It is unclear when she or the court will act.

Chrysler claims the agreement with Fiat is the best deal it can get for its assets and is critical to the company’s plan to emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

But a trio of Indiana state pension and construction funds, which hold a small part of Chrysler’s debt, have been fighting the sale, claiming that it unfairly favours Chrysler’s unsecured stakeholders ahead of secured debtholders like themselves.

As part of Chrysler’s restructuring plan, the automaker’s secured debtholders will receive $2 billion, or about 29 cents on the dollar, for their combined $6.9 billion in debt. The Indiana funds bought their $42.5 million in debt in July 2008 for 43 cents on the dollar.

The funds also are challenging the constitutionality of the Treasury Department’s use of money from the Troubled Asset Relief Program to supply Chrysler’s bankruptcy protection financing. They say the government did so without congressional authority.

Consumer groups and individuals with product-related lawsuits also are contesting a condition of the Chrysler sale that would release the company from product liability claims related to vehicles it sold before the “New Chrysler” partnered with Fiat is created.

Individuals with claims against “Old Chrysler” would have to seek compensation from the parts of the company not being sold to Fiat. But those assets have limited value and it’s doubtful that there will be anything available to pay consumer claims.

The appeals come as Congress intensifies its scrutiny of the Obama administration’s government-led restructuring of Chrysler and General Motors Corp. (NYSE:GM). The Senate Banking Committee said it planned to call Ron Bloom, a senior adviser to the auto task force, and Edward Montgomery, who serves as the Obama administration’s director of recovery for auto communities and workers, to a hearing Wednesday.

Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., the committee’s chairman, planned to review the use of TARP funds to help the auto companies and look at whether taxpayers will receive a return on their investment.

GM and Chrysler executives faced questions last week from Congress over the elimination of hundreds of dealerships as part of the companies’ reorganizations.

The Associated Press reported Monday that a senior Obama administration official said Fiat SpA will shake up Chrysler’s management if the courts allow the sale.

The official says management changes will go deeper than the departure of CEO Bob Nardelli and vice-chairman Tom LaSorda. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the changes have not been made public.

By The Associated Press