Commentary

A lie can travel halfway round the world while the truth is putting on its shoes, Mark Twain once said.

On Feb. 15, the day after DaimlerChrysler CEO Dieter Zetsche announced the auto maker was keeping open all its options, truth wasn’t out of bed before Chrysler had more suitors than Anna Nicole Smith’s baby had daddies.

There were Chinese auto makers, Renault-Nissan, Hyundai and, of course, General Motors.

Under pressure to feed the news monster 24/7, journalists temporarily retired from their jobs as professional skeptics. Instead, they became more like movie-goers, temporarily suspending disbelief as they lined up the requisite talking heads to prop up the thinly sourced theory of the day.

A Chinese manufacturer would be interested in buying Chrysler so it could establish a distribution network in the U.S., said one talking head. Never mind that it will be years before any Chinese producer will have a product portfolio big enough and attractive enough to support Chrysler’s 3,750 dealers.

Which Chinese auto makers are capable of raising $5 billion to $14 billion for such a speculative investment? The talking head didn’t say and no one asked.

Then there is Renault-Nissan. It made advances to GM about forming an alliance, so why wouldn’t it be interested in buying a different troubled auto maker from Detroit?

The fortunes of both Nissan and Renault are heading south, and CEO Carlos Ghosn recently admitted he may have bitten off more than he could chew trying to run both companies.

That stopped absolutely no one from guessing he was interested in immediately adding a third huge repair job to his plate.

Hyundai also popped out of the woodwork as a strong candidate to buy Detroit’s No.3 auto maker. Hyundai already is a partner with Chrysler in the Global Engineering Mfg. Alliance, an engine-building joint venture.

But the South Korean auto maker also recently was involved in a global alliance with DaimlerChrysler that went sour.

Another slight problem: Hyundai Group Chairman Chung Mong-koo currently is busy appealing a 3-year prison sentence for his role in a corporate embezzlement scheme. Some observers are joking that J.P. Morgan will have to slip the Chrysler prospectus through the food slot in a cell door.

Then there is GM. One talking head said it would be a good suitor because it would allow GM to co-develop hybrid-electric powertrains with Chrysler.

GM already is collaborating with DaimlerChrysler and BMW on a new dual-mode HEV powertrain. It will debut on a Chevy Tahoe later this year.

GM used to have a drivetrain joint venture with Chrysler called New Venture Gear. Now it builds transmissions with Ford. It did not have to buy either to do so.

Despite its problems, Chrysler still is a strong company with powerful brand names such as Jeep and Hemi. It has some superb cars and trucks, too, such as the 300 sedan, Jeep Wrangler and its segment-defining minivans.

There may indeed be compelling reasons for GM or another major auto maker to make a bid for Chrysler. Unfortunately, not one has yet been reported by the automotive press.

dwinter@wardsauto.com