Mercedes parent group finally agrees upon a buyer for its troubled North American brand
14 May 2007

American private-equity company Cerberus is the new owner of Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge, it was announced this morning (14 May).For a price of $7.4bn (£3.7bn), New York-based Cerberus has bought 80 per cent of Chrysler, leaving Daimler with 20 per cent.The much-rumoured buy-out concludes about three months of negotiations, started in February when DaimlerChrysler (DCX) boss Dieter Zetsche put the group’s US businesses up for sale.The sell-off comes nine years after Daimler took over Chrysler, during which time the German company has struggled to return any financial benefits from its huge investment of cash and brainpower. The price for sale says it all, really. Chrysler was valued at $36bn (£18bn) in 1999; today it is worth just $9.25bn (£4.66).According to today’s statement, the breaking point was the long-term strategic view at DCX that further cost-savings and synergies were not possible.“In nearly 10 years as DaimlerChrysler, a lot has been done to move the businesses forward. The synergies possible between Mercedes-Benz and Chrysler have been fully utilised,” said DCX.It added: “Additional potential for collaboration is limited between two businesses operating in such different market segments. The strong volatility and pressure on margins in the Chrysler Group’s North American core market have an increasingly negative impact on DaimlerChrysler’s overall profitability and share-price development.”Key details of the sale announced this morning include the formation of two new separate companies — Chrysler Corporation LLC and Daimler AG — effectively a return to the pre-1999 status of both companies.Significantly, Chrysler’s pension and health insurance liabilities will transfer to the new Cerberus-owned company. Analysts value this liability at around $19bn (£9.6bn) alone.At least Chrysler Corporation LLC will be debt-free thanks to a cash injection from Daimler of around $1bn (£504m). A further $500m (£252m) will paid out by Daimler to “discharge long-term liabilities”.The new Daimler AG is already predicting improved financial performance, which may translate into better cars and trucks thanks to more investment being available for new models.In terms of new model strategy, the sell-off will have huge implications for platform, engine and component sharing, although the only broad detail has been released this morning.“Existing projects with the Mercedes Car Group will be continued, for example in the development of conventional and alternative drive systems, purchasing, and sales and financial services outside the North American region,” said DaimlerChrysler's announcement.But there was no mention of details such as how Chrysler will pay for and develop new platforms and engines.For example Chrysler’s rear-drive platform for the 300C/Dodge Charger family is a development of the old Mercedes E-class platform – technology that will need replacing in the next generation of vehicles.It is seems unlikely that projects like this wil be co-developed, leaving Chrysler to go it alone and raising questions about the new company’s ability to produce competitive new products without the help of Mercedes.DCX’s employees in the UK face huge upheaval, too, for the second time in a decade.Chrysler Group staff transferred to Mercedes’s HQ in Milton Keynes, forcing many people to choose between life in the south of England near the old HQ in Dover and a move to Milton Keynes.That process looks likely to be repeated as the privately owned Chrysler Corp inevitably looks for a new HQ.

Julian Rendell

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