GREENBURG, NY –LLC Vice Chairman Jim Press stops here during a nationwide road show to convince dealers to take delivery of more vehicles and also brings them up to date on the auto maker’s negotiations to set up a non-binding partnership with Auto Group.
“We have a good plan in mind to not only be viable, but to be profitable,” he says. “We see a tremendous future.”
Press tells journalists co-Chairman Tom LaSorda is the point man in thenegotiations, which are far from final, he says. Teams, which will report to LaSorda, are just being formed to pursue the specifics of the deal.
However, theexecutive told participants in a J.D. Power and Associates Automotive roundtable in New Orleans last week, he expects the deal to come together by March 31.
Press says no plans have been made on which models will be built here on Fiat platforms, and no plants have yet been designated for the Italian manufacturer to assemble vehicles here.
However, he insists Chrysler will have access to “billions and billions of dollars” worth of platforms and technologies in return for the 35% share Fiat will hold in the auto maker’s stock.
Press declines to quantify how these sums were arrived at, but says a Chrysler-Fiat alliance will save thousands of American jobs and make the U.S. auto maker viable more quickly. It also will greatly accelerate Chrysler’s ability to offer highly efficient cars in the domestic marketplace and offer potential volume growth for Chrysler dealers.
In return, Fiat will get a distribution channel for vehicles it wants to sell here.
The first Chrysler vehicle based on Fiat architecture could go into production within two years, about the same amount of time it took the auto maker to develop the Challenger, Press says.
However, Chrysler still is doing due diligence on the proposed alliance with Fiat, he cautions, and it’s too soon to put a date on when such a car would go on sale. “There is no timetable on when we will start on a Fiat-derived car.”
At the same time, there has been “nothing but good news for Chrysler so far this year,” Press says. That includes the $4 billion loan received from the government and the forthcoming $3 billion expected soon.
“Without Fiat, we can still get government loans,” he insists.
The federal funds “will only be used to operate Chrysler,” Press says. None of the loan monies will go to parent Cerberus Capital Management LP. “Cerberus is not going to benefit from the government loans.”
Chrysler’s joint venture withMotor Co. Ltd., in which the Japanese auto maker will build small cars for Chrysler, while Chrysler makes fullsize pickups for Nissan, will go forward, regardless of what develops with Fiat.
Thecar is not that far way, Press says. “The Fiat deal doesn’t preclude any other foreign investments (in Chrysler).”
Press also says Chrysler has achieved industry-leading manufacturing efficiency, while paring warranty costs to the lowest level in the company’s history. Additionally, the auto maker is not losing money on current sales that carry generous incentives with attractive financing terms.
“We’re providing good value for our customers,” he says.
Chrysler is due back in Washington Feb. 17 to report on what concessions its dealers and the United Auto Workers union, among others, will contribute to making the company viable again. Chrysler has until March 31 to deliver the final binding plan to Congress.
So far, Press has spoken to some 1,000 of Chrysler’s 3,500 dealers, telling them what the auto maker expects them to contribute to the company’s efforts.
Chrysler already has informed its dealers the labor rate for warranty work has been frozen for 2009, Press says. Dealers can expect no increase in this compensation this year. The auto maker lost 287 dealers in 2008 as a result of consolidations and other factors.