Auto Maker Marriage on Rocks

By coincidence in 1999, I interviewed Lee Iacocca right after news broke that Daimler-Benz and Chrysler would join as one. Iacocca back then was pitching an electric-bike venture, which, like so many of his post-Chrysler projects, never went anywhere. I met him to talk about wired 2-wheelers. To the ire of a company public relations guy who set it up, our chat shifted to what Iacocca thought of Chrysler

By coincidence in 1999, I interviewed Lee Iacocca right after news broke that Daimler-Benz and Chrysler would join as one.

Iacocca back then was pitching an electric-bike venture, which, like so many of his post-Chrysler projects, never went anywhere.

I met him to talk about wired 2-wheelers. To the ire of a company public relations guy who set it up, our chat shifted to what Iacocca thought of Chrysler hitching up with Daimler. He was diplomatic. “It should work because they are both great companies,” he said.

Then he recalled that as Chrysler chairman he once wanted to buy Volkswagen, but it was when both Chrysler and VW were ailing. Iacocca laughed about that, saying: “My father always said: ‘Never put two losers together.’”

Eight years later, the Daimler half of DaimlerChrysler apparently feels it hooked up with a loser. Its willingness to sell Chrysler seems like a sign of irreconcilable differences.

From the beginning, there were doubts that a proud German aristocrat and a scrappy American commoner could find happiness together. It seemed like it would take a lot of work, considering the differences in personalities and backgrounds.

Now, after a rough 2006 for Chrysler, there's talk of what Tammy Wynette would call d-i-v-o-r-c-e.

So, are there any suitors out there interested in a sincere, lasting relationship with a sensitive, fun-loving car company that, oh yeah, lost $1.4 billion last year?

By the way, where's Kirk Kerkorian when Chrysler is for sale? Apparently he has opted out of the auto business, after spooking Chrysler with a hostile take-over attempt in the 1990s and distracting General Motors with shareholder meddling this decade. Thanks, Captain Kirk.

Here in Detroit, so many Chrysler-for-sale rumors are aswirl, you need to look out for flying objects.

Among reported potential buyers is Hyundai. A British publication claims the South Korean auto maker wants Chrysler because of its 3,800-store dealer network.

Huh? Why on earth would Hyundai want that when just about everyone agrees Chrysler is overdealered? The writer of that story apparently had one too many at the Cock and Bull pub.

Another far-fetched report is that GM finds Chrysler fetching enough to buy it. Oooo-kay. Let me get this: Finally climbing out of its own hole, GM would pay to jump into Chrysler's? I don't think so. GM needs its cross-town rival's problems like JetBlue needs another winter storm.

Some of the would-be Chrysler buyer rumors seem as believable as news that the director of the movie Titanic and others have discovered the alleged burial tomb of Jesus, his wife and their kid. File it under: “Claims most likely to sink like a rock.”

The next crazy rumor I'm waiting to hear is that a group of Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep dealers plans to buy Chrysler and show the industry how to run an auto company by using dealer best-practices such as inventory management, market-demand knowledge, marketing savvy and staff-motivation skills.

Wait a minute. That's not so crazy.

Steve Finlay is editor of Ward's Dealer Business.

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