Is Chrysler a lost cause?


Published: Thursday, January 8, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 8, 2009 at 1:39 a.m.

Even by the standards of battered automakers, Chrysler is in dire shape.

Its sales in December were down a stunning 53 percent, far worse than Ford or General Motors, and analysts say it probably won't survive the year as an independent company despite $4 billion in government loans and the possibility of more.

Things were so bad last year that a single Toyota model, the Camry/Solara midsize car, outsold the entire fleet of Chrysler LLC's passenger cars.

"Basically they're done," said Aaron Bragman, an auto analyst with the consulting company IHS Global Insight in Troy, Mich. "There is no real possibility of turning this thing around as an independent company in my opinion."

U.S. sales of Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep brand vehicles fell 30 percent last year, the worst decline of any major automaker. It lost more market share than any of its peers, down to 11 percent. Analysts say most of Chrysler's products, especially its cars, don't look, feel or drive as well as the competition's.

Chrysler plans to introduce an electric car in 2010, but until then, there are few promising models to boost sales. Many analysts predict that by 2010, Chrysler will be acquired by another automaker or sold in pieces by its majority owner, New York private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management.

Chrysler's chief financial officer has said the company needs $7 billion every 45 days to pay parts suppliers, and analysts question whether the company's meager sales are generating enough cash to make those payments.

Analysts also say an acquisition by General Motors Corp. is still possible. The two companies discussed it late last year before GM backed away to focus on its own cash issues.

Nissan Motor Co. could be interested in buying Chrysler's truck business. Chrysler is already signed up to make pickup trucks for the Japanese company.

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