Thursday, May 07, 2009

Chrysler

Chrysler will be a millstone around the Obama administration's neck.  It doesn't appear to do all that much about the cost structure of Chrysler, it will make any company that has a sizable union presence a credit risk in the eyes of investors, and there is a pretty good chance that Chrysler will fail again, just as it has twice already in the last two decades (I am considering the Mercedes merger/acquisition as a bailout).  Pairing Chrysler with Fiat will give Chrysler access to small cars and nominally a luxury marque in the form of Alfa Romeo.  However, both Fiat and Alfa Romeo, are renowned for reliability issues.  Just as Chrysler is.  I do think the Fiat 500 might be a real hit but outside of that Chrysler doesn't get much.  

The principle purpose behind this reorganization seems to be to preserve UAW pensions and health benefits.  But I think this will be viewed as a pyrrhic victory for the UAW and the union movement writ large.  I don't think the UAW is out of the woods yet.  What if Chrysler continues to make crappy cars that people don't want to buy?  I don't see how a tie-up with Fiat changes that trajectory.  If so, four or five years, I doubt Obama will be able to pull off the same hijinx and will probably just have to let them enter into a normal bankruptcy process which could very well result in liquidation whereby those UAW pensions are dropped onto the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation.  This is what should have happpened this time around.  There is in fact some value to be found in each individual brand (especially Dodge and Jeep).  It's not as if Chrysler were to go into liquidation that every job would be lost and those brands would be gone forever.  Nissan was just recently looking at having Dodge manufacture trucks for them to be rebadged.  If Chrysler went into liquidation wouldn't Hyundai, Nissan or potentially a Chinese manufacturer be interested in buying one of those brands, whether to supplement their offering in the case of a Hyundai or to get a foothold in the American market in the case of a Chinese manufacturer.

But I think the broader fallout for the Obama administration will not just be the needless waste of taxpayer money but will be the affect this has on unions.  The UAW has largely been identified as the culprit of Chrysler and GM, however, a lot of the blame has been misplaced.  While the UAW did cause a cost structure that made for some unsuitable compromises (such as the precluding the manufacture of a competitive small car) management deserves the bulk of the blame.   The cars that GM and Chrysler have made of the years have been crap.  Some of this is the result of cost cutting but it has also been to a large degree a function of design, concept and quality.  Most of those three things are ultimately the responsibility of management and Chrysler and GM management have failed on all three accounts.  However, by stiffing the senior creditors to reward the UAW with GM and Chrysler equity stakes and the preservation of their benefits, this would seem to create a substantial risk in the eyes of investors where it concerns union companies.  Why would you want to lend to a company with a union when there is a decent chance if things go south that the government will subvert your claims to those of their preferred special interest: the unions.  Now not only will a union company' exhibit a cost structure disadvantage but also a disadvantage from the perspective of borrowing costs.  

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