In case you didn’t notice, there has been a “For Sale” sign outside Fiat Chrysler headquarters in Michigan for some time.
Chrysler has been bought and sold before, of course, starting with then-CEO Bob Eaton’s sale to Juergen Schrempp and Daimler-Benz in 1998. Daimler sent Dieter Zetsche to the U.S. to run Chrysler for a while and eventually had to give up. Then a real disaster — the bargain-basement sale to Cerberus, a Wall Street firm that thought it could straighten out the company, flip it and make a few billion in the process. That didn’t work at all and, finally, out of desperation, Chrysler was sold to Fiat.
Sergio Marchionne became a household name in the auto industry, and suddenly black sweaters were in fashion.
Mix in Fiat with Chrysler, set up headquarters in Europe, and then we had FCA. Next, Ferrari was pulled out, and a new search began for a buyer of the remaining parts. First General Motors was courted, except that GM is shrinking, not growing. How about Volkswagen? The trouble is VW has so much trouble of its own that it is not about to take on an acquisition, regardless of how appealing it might be.
So now we seem to be left with the Chinese.
Make no mistake, FCA would be appealing to any number of suitors, although the company that makes the most sense is already manufacturing Jeeps under license from FCA, Guangzhou Automobile Group. But understand — FCA is going to the highest bidder.
U.S. government approval could be a snag, although that would seem moot since we are talking about a Chinese company buying a European holding company. Still, it is just confusing enough to make it impossible for Washington to object.
No one seemed to notice when Volvo was acquired by the Chinese. So after a brief run of hysteria, things will calm down, and no one will realize that America’s icon, Jeep, is now Chinese.
The Detroit 3 would become the Terrible 2 or, maybe, Terrific 2. Chrysler, through its many iterations, seemed to have abandoned the auto business long ago. It is just a company for buying and selling.
The automobile business is a curious industry. And it seems to get more curious every day.