Kicking Chrysler's Tires
Car Makers Approach
Daimler as It Steps Up
Sale or Spinoff Plans
By JASON SINGER
February 19, 2007
DaimlerChrysler AG is moving forward with preparations to sell or spin off the Chrysler Group, raising the prospect that it could auction off the embattled U.S. unit in the coming months, two people close to the matter said.
The company has already received several expressions of interest from around the world for Chrysler since saying last week that it was considering "all options" to turn around the unprofitable operation, these people said.
DaimlerChrysler has also said it is interested in using alliances and partnerships to help Chrysler cut costs and expand sales in fast-growing international markets. It is already talking to General Motors Corp. about joining forces to develop a large sports-utility vehicle.
At least some top executives at DaimlerChrysler's Stuttgart, Germany, headquarters are determined to try to sell Chrysler or spin it off to existing shareholders rather than restructure it again, one of those close to the matter said.
Chief Executive Dieter Zetsche, who headed Chrysler in his previous job, hasn't yet indicated his preference, a third person close to DaimlerChrysler's top management said.
A DaimlerChrysler spokesman reiterated that the company is looking at "all options" and declined to comment further.
Any sale or spinoff is likely to be a complicated transaction that would unfold over several months. It is also unclear how much Chrysler is worth and how much DaimlerChrysler would hope to get for the division. Financial analysts have speculated that Chrysler has a value of about $5 billion. It had a value of about $35 billion in the 1998 merger that formed DaimlerChrysler.
Last week DaimlerChrysler reported a 40% drop in fourth-quarter earnings because of a $1.5 billion operating loss at Chrysler, and unveiled a plan to slash 13,000 jobs and close at least one plant to stabilize the division. It also declared its interest in exploring the sale of Chrysler.
The announcement was intended in part to gauge interest among other car makers and private-equity investment firms to purchase Chrysler, one of those familiar with the matter said.
In the past few days, large car companies from Asia, Europe and the U.S. have approached DaimlerChrysler, which also makes Jeep and Dodge brand cars and light trucks, about a possible purchase or alliance with Chrysler. Private-equity firms, which have been buying ever larger industrial companies in recent years, are also interested in the group.
DaimlerChrysler hasn't begun an auction and is keeping open the option of shedding Chrysler through a spinoff to its existing shareholders, this person said. DaimlerChrysler is unlikely to sell just a part of the company to an outside investor, though no firm decisions have been made, the person added.
Bidding for Chrysler by interested buyers could still be months away since strategic and financial information needs to be prepared and studied before any potential buyer can put an approximate value on the business.
Hyundai Motor Corp. has held talks about building an engine plant in China with DaimlerChrysler and shares an engine plant in Michigan with DaimlerChrysler and Mitsubishi Motors Corp. But the South Korean auto maker isn't considering buying Chrysler, a Hyundai spokesman said.
"Our hands are full," he said. Hyundai is in the midst of aggressive overseas expansion, with plant investments in the Czech Republic, the U.S. and elsewhere.
DaimlerChrysler was formed in 1998 from the merger of Germany's Daimler-Benz AG, which makes Mercedes Benz luxury cars and heavy commercial vehicles, and Chrysler Corp., a maker of passenger cars and pickup trucks geared toward lower and middle-class buyers.
At the time, Chrysler was profitable, but since 2000 it has struggled and dragged down the performance of the parent company.
-- Stephen Power and Gina Chon contributed to this article.
Write to Jason Singer at [email protected]