Cerberus:

2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Upgraded… Great Gets Greater

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Award Winner Gets Major Changes After Only Three Years The 2012 Grand Cherokee has been arguably the best affordable “real” SUV on the market since the latest generation was launched for the 2011 model year.  The Grand Cherokee was so good that its owners rated it higher enough against its competition to win AutoPacific’s Vehicle Satisfaction Award in 2011 and 2012 AND AutoPacific’s Ideal Vehicle Award in 2011 and 2012!  This sweep in these tough-to-win owner awards is testament to the excellence of the Grand Cherokee.

Developed in Time of Hardship The 2011 Grand Cherokee was developed during the dark days of the reign of Cerberus Capital Management.   Their ownership of Chrysler steered the firm to the bankruptcy courts and a bailout by the U.S. and Canadian government, UAW and CAW.  Ultimately, Fiat took control of Chrysler and Jeep and the firm is now prospering.  It is surprising that under the eyes of Cerberus, the 2011 Grand Cherokee turned out to be such a good vehicle.

Best Gets Better Like other Chrysler products (Chrysler 300, Chrysler 200, Dodge Charger, Ram 1500), Jeep’s product team has reinvigorated the vehicle but mostly under the skin.  The front fascia is new.  Taillamps are new.  A couple of wheel designs are new.  And the interiors are new and much more upscale.  Grand Cherokee gets Chrysler’s latest iteration of its excellent and easy to use UConnect system.  Gone is the 5-speed automatic transmission replaced by a silky smooth 8-speed unit.  A 240HP 3.0L V6 diesel is available for the first time.  So, the Grand Cherokee is a substantially upgraded version of the 2011 vehicle.  And it works!


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Unbelievable – Jim Press Joins Chrysler LLC

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We don’t normally get involved in reporting on the management at carmakers. We don’t figure that these faceless heads are of much interest to our readers, but in the case of Chrysler LLC’s new management the stories are unfolding and they are very, very interesting. The latest is the move of Jim Press from Toyota to Chrysler.

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Incredible. Unbelievable. Jim Press, the top American at Toyota has left the Japanese firm he has been with for 37 years to join Chrysler as Vice Chairman and President responsible Sales, International Sales, Marketing, Product Strategy, Service and Parts.
One of the true gentlemen of the industry – domestic or import – Press was at the helm of Toyota Motor Sales as the firm blasted past its Japanese rivals and then began to pick off Chrysler and Ford in monthly sales figures. Press was on the board of Toyota Motor Limited – the Japanese mothership – and had moved from Toyota Motor Sales’ Torrance, California headquarters to run all of Toyota’s North American operations from New York during 2006. It is likely this move upwards to New York that took Press out of his comfort zone and made any approach by Chrysler possible.
In his new job, Press has the same title as Tom LaSorda. Chrysler said LaSorda will be responsible for manufacturing and suppliers, while Press will be responsible for sales and marketing, product strategy and service and parts. Both will report to Chrysler CEO Bob Nardelli. This is the second high profile choice that undermines LaSorda’s previous position as Chairman of Chrysler… first came Nardelli and now Press.
Press joins another Toyota alum, Debra Wahl Meyer, in moving to Chrysler. Wahy Meyer was tapped last month to be Vice President of Marketing. She had previously been Vice President of Marketing at Toyota’s Lexus Division.
“Part of my new responsibilities will be strengthening and energizing the dealer body,” Press said in a statement. “This is something I was passionate about at Toyota and will be passionate about at Chrysler.” This, of course, will be a challenge for Press because Chrysler dealers are a restive group of late. In his days as head of TMS, Press’ relationships with Toyota dealers was solid. Dealers respected Press and he respected the dealers. Chrysler’s dealer relations are so far in the dumps, however, that it will take months, if not years, for them to be repaired.


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The New Chrysler II: Lots of Noise, Questions, and Endless Speculation

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The furor surrounding Cerberus’ decision to make Bob Nardelli, formerly of Home Depot and GE, the CEO and chairman of the New Chrysler II, putting Tom LaSorda in the Number 2 position instead of Number 1, is the juiciest gossip train to hit the circuit since Mulally’s appointment at Ford. There has been much more noise than news this week, and here’s our contribution to the fray.

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Employees at Announcement Wanted to be in Air Conditioning or Home by the Pool
Watching both the press conference announcing Bob Nardelli’s appointment as CEO and chairman of the newly formed Chrysler LLC as well as the employee pep rally afterward, and both groups seem wary instead of enthusiastic or supportive. The backlash in the press finds little support for Nardelli. The employees, while impressed with acrobatics and fireworks, generally looked as though they’d have preferred to be in their offices that hot, muggy afternoon. Most left as soon as they sensed the formal program was over. Nardelli says he’s here to bring laser-focus and energy to the turnaround plan already laid out and in progress. His presence in front of employees didn’t bring energy, and returning to finish the last few days of a family vacation the next day didn’t display laser focus.
Nardelli’s been characterized as a drill sergeant with little people skills, and he’s entering a vibrant company full of strong personalities. Being private gives Chrysler LLC the ability to make decisions based on long-term health instead of short-term profit-and-loss statements. But Cerberus expects a quick turnaround and their investors do expect a return. Nardelli may be playing to a different audience, but the pressure will be no less intense.
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Chrysler Sale to Cerberus Closes

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Ah, yes. It began with such high hopes but without enough due diligence. Little did what was then Daimler-Benz AG know it was “merging” with Chrysler Corporation wearing an empty suit. The “merger of equals” was anything but. It was a take over. Not a hostile take over, but a take over nonetheless. On the surface, Daimler-Benz got a high volume American manufacturer with some critically acclaimed models and the Jeep brand. They also got thousands of Chrysler-Plymouth, Dodge and Jeep dealers. What they did not get was a solid cycle plan with investment levels sufficient to guarantee competitiveness.
LX Cars Greatest Result of Tie-Up with Daimler-Benz
Perhaps the greatest accomplishment during the brief existence of DaimlerChrysler (name to be changed at a extraordinary shareholder’s meeting on October 4, 2007) was the development of the LX platform. Sharing components with a previous generation Mercedes E-Class (primarily independent rear suspension) the big rear wheel drive sedan – the Chrysler 300 – and wagon – the Dodge Magnum – and later the Dodge Charger sedan – could have set the tone for Chrysler Group going forward. Add the HEMI V8 to the mix and WOW!
LX Cars Were One Trick Pony – No Follow-Up on Design Theme
But Chrysler never followed up on the LXs. On the car side of the business the Chrysler Crossfire was an absolute flop. The Dodge Caliber, Dodge Avenger and Chrysler Sebring have become the darlings of rental fleets. The Jeep Compass the butt of jokes. The LX-Based and almost approved Imperial was thankfully killed before it could go into production. Where is the DNA that could have been passed down from the LX cars? A lineup rich in LX DNA could have been an extremely strong lineup instead of a group of weak sisters.
Sounds Like BMW Rover
Maybe the large German car companies are not destined to own foreign companies. BMW was not able to turn around Britain’s Rover and Rover eventually folded. Was “The Chrysler Problem” the fault of Daimler-Benz? Was there a talent drain at Chrysler with the departure of product guru Bob Lutz and design leader Tom Gale? Did Chrysler cut costs too drastically? Did adopting Daimler-Benz processes create operating problems? But those issues are part of the case study the Harvard Business School is undoubtedly writing right now.
Will Chrysler Prosper Under Cerberus?
The more intriguing question of the moment is “How will Chrysler respond to its new ownership? Will it prosper? Will it struggle even more? Will Chrysler once again develop and sell cars and trucks we covet? Time will tell

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Who Will Ford Sell Parts of PAG To?

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This article appeared in the July 26th web-release by the British business magazine The Economist. VehicleVoice commentary is peppered throughout.
Ford: A costly distraction
July 26th 2007: From The Economist print edition
Ford is selling off its premium brands. Who will buy them?
Ford’s High Hopes for the Premier Automotive Group Never Materialized
WHEN Jacques Nasser, Ford’s boss in the late 1990s, bought two premium European car brands, he had high hopes for his new luxury-car division, which came to be known as the Premier Automotive Group (PAG). By 2005, the firm predicted, Aston Martin, Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo would sell 1m cars a year, earn more than $1 billion annually and account for about one-third of Ford’s profits. But eight years on the PAG is consistently losing money and sells about one-third fewer cars than predicted—and Ford itself is haunted by the spectre of bankruptcy.
New Ford Regime Under Alan Mulally Puts PAG on the Block Piecemeal
After some initial hesitation Alan Mulally, the chief executive brought in from Boeing last September, decided to put bits of the PAG on the block. In March he sold Aston Martin for $848m, and in June he appointed three banks to field potential buyers for Land Rover and Jaguar. The bidding period ended on July 19th with an unexpectedly high number of potential suitors, thought to include Cerberus Capital Management (the private-equity group that bought Chrysler in May), TPG Capital, Ripplewood Holdings and One Equity Partners (a private-equity firm where Mr Nasser now works), along with India’s Tata Motors and the Mahindra Group.
Click here to find out more!
VehicleVoice Spin: How much of this is circuitous reporting by the international media? Ford has admitted that potential sale of Jaguar and Land Rover is on the horizon, but how accurate is the list of potential bidders The Economist cites? Wouldn’t it be interesting if Cerberus bought Jaguar and Land Rover to be the luxury marques for Chrysler Group?
Ah, Here Comes the Volvo Rumor Again…
Ford is also considering a sale of Volvo, a Swedish maker of premium cars, and the most valuable and profitable bit of the PAG. Last year Volvo is believed to have made a profit, though the PAG as a whole lost $2.3 billion. (Ford does not break out details of the division’s financial results.) But although selling Jaguar and Land Rover would make sense, it is less clear that the same is true of Volvo, says Jonathan Steinmetz, an analyst at Morgan Stanley, an investment bank. Volvo is more integrated into Ford than the two other brands, with several Ford and Volvo vehicles sharing chassis designs and parts. Volvo is also far bigger by units sold—it accounted for 7% of sales in 2006, compared with 3% for Land Rover and 1% for Jaguar—which helps to spread development costs.
Former Chairman of AMC Says Ford Should Unload All of PAG and Tend to Knitting
But Gerald Meyers, a former chairman of the American Motors Corporation, a carmaker bought by Chrysler, thinks Ford should sell all of the PAG and get what cash it can. Since Ford is in the middle of a multi-year turnaround plan, any distraction from rescuing its core American business is counterproductive, he argues. (In a sign that the plan might at last be working, Ford announced a surprise profit of $750m for the second quarter on July 26th.)
Now This One Doesn’t Make Much Sense
BMW of Germany is one possible bidder for Volvo. BMW says it is keeping its eyes open for takeover targets, though it has had its fingers burnt by acquisitions in the past. Volvo and BMW are compatible premium brands, says Marc-René Tonn, an analyst at MM Warburg, an investment bank in Hamburg. But they do not fit technically: Volvos rely on front-wheel drive, BMWs on rear-wheel drive. Renault would be a more logical buyer, says Thierry Huon at Exane, a brokerage in Paris. Renault needs a premium brand, having failed to build one itself. And the Renault and Volvo brands, with their common emphasis on safety, fit together well.
VehicleVoice Spin: BMW tried its hand with “The English Patient” – Rover and Land Rover – in the 1990s. BMW ended up selling Rover to an investment group for £10 and selling Land Rover to Ford for a couple billion dollars. Volvo cars are based on front wheel drive platforms, BMWs are rear wheel drive (with the exception of MINI). There isn’t much synergy here. Much different mindsets as well. This could well be The English Patient all over again if BMW is so anxious to acquire more brands.
Volvo Group Buys Back Volvo… Now That’s an Idea
Another possible buyer is Volvo Group, the lorry-making (heavy trucks, to Americans) parent firm that sold its car unit to Ford in 1999. This would reunite the two divisions, but there are no synergies between carmaking and lorry-making, which is why the cars were spun off. It is more likely that Renault will sell its 21% stake in Volvo Group to help finance its purchase of the carmaker.
Can Ford Recoup Its Investment in Money and Resources in the PAG Units?
Estimates of the proceeds from a sale of the PAG range from $8 billion to $16 billion. Ford could invest the money in its remaining brands—Ford, Lincoln, Mercury and Mazda—or in product development. But it would probably be wisest to restructure its health-care liabilities, which it is currently discussing with the United Auto Workers (UAW), the car industry’s main union. Mr Mulally is pressing the UAW to set up a union-managed trust that would enable Ford to take tens of billions of dollars of retiree health-care liabilities off its balance sheet. Such a trust would need to be funded up front—so cash from the sale of the PAG would come in handy.
VehicleVoice Spin: <Ford’s immediate headache is the 2007 UAW negotiations and indeed medical costs are a major part of the equation. Ford needs concessions to improve its profit picture and help guarantee those UAW workers their jobs. But, this is still the car business and Ford has fallen behind. Not as far behind as Chrysler, but General Motors has certainly taken the lead in product development of late. Ford needs to restructure not only the Company but also its product lineup. If getting rid of PAG – including Volvo – gets their attention back on the ball, so be it.
But think of these things… Many Ford middle managers now have positions with PAG brands either in Europe or headquartered in Irvine, California. Would they go back to the mother ship? Have they learned enough at PAG brands to be an asset to Ford? Would their departure hurt the PAG brands further? On the product sharing side, The Economist article rightly states that Volvo, Ford and Mazda are successfully sharing platforms. How could Volvo continue that in a cost-effective way if they were to be sold? The transfer pricing would be a bitch. Don’t forget either that the new Land Rover Freelander II/LR2 shares its architecture with the upcoming Volvo XC60. Wow, this is complicated.


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Ford Sells Jaguar/Land Rover – When "All The News That's Fit To Print" Ceases To Be News

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I’m sure many of you have seen at least a few of the recent “news” reports that Ford will be selling its Jaguar/Land Rover operations any day now. Potential buyers mentioned (by people who should know MUCH better) have run the gamut from Fiat to Renault to a couple of Asian companies, with a few private equity groups thrown in because the Cerberus-Chrysler deal must be the beginning of a trend. Only a few weeks ago, Automotive News, that renowned and (too) oft-quoted trade weekly, let go with the spectacular revelation that Ford was just about to announce the sale of its Volvo car unit to BMW.
Wherever do they come up with this stuff?
To start with, the sale of Jaguar/Land Rover, or Jaguar alone. Or Land Rover alone or even Volvo would require Ford Motor Company to re-negotiate the conditions of the massive cash loans it took out late last year. Why, you may ask? Put simply, Ford placed its “automotive operations” (as well as a bevy of other assets) up as collateral for the much-need infusion of capital. Admittedly, the company could go to its lenders and revise its loans so the beleaguered automaker could shed one of these units, but said negotiations are rarely quick, difficult to keep quiet and always painful.
But amongst all the chatter about Jag, Land Rover and Volvo’s imminent sale(s), not a word has leaked from the financial community. Strange, isn’t it?
And regarding the acquisition of Volvo by BMW, beyond the obvious issue that Volvo brings no usable asset or technology to the Bavarian automaker, the story is a complete fabrication. It seems the idea got started at Autocar magazine in the UK earlier this year in kind of a “what if” three-liner needed to fill out a column. Within a week or so the story was passing around the European enthusiast publications. The chatter got loud enough for numerous people at BMW (execs and PR types alike) to deny it. This only created a buzz amongst a few key European business and financial rags. The result was the astonishing transformation of filler postulation into NEWS. Not it’s not strange, it is sad. Very, very sad.


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The Chrysler Corporation Returns

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Chrysler is Back in Private, American Hands; Current Management Stays On
On Monday, May 14, DaimlerChrysler and Cerberus announced the pending sale of the Chrysler Group, including Chrysler Financial. Among the firestorm of conferences, board meetings, and announcements following, we attended a Chrysler press conference where the new Chrysler Corporation boss Tom LaSorda gave a short briefing and took some direct questions.

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Perhaps the most significant element of the change in ownership is not who makes up the management team, or even in which country home base now is. It isn’t whether or not Wolfgang Bernhard returns to Chrysler, or even who is the boss. It is that the new company is privately held.
The new Chrysler Corporation is not required to report quarterly (or annual) sales, profits, returns, management salaries, production, or most of the other indicators that Wall Street watches so closely. The negative of quarter-by-quarter reporting and evaluation is a tendency to think short term, which can be deadly for a business whose core products have a four- to six-year natural lifecycle. (Including LaSorda’s and other managers’ salaries, which he seemed nearly gleeful that he’ll no longer report.) When pressed, LaSorda cited short-term focus as the driver for the ill-fated sales bank strategy, and as something done to please the German bosses and done against long-term strategy and goals. As a private company, LaSorda says, they “will be able to run it as we want, without worrying about quarterly numbers and what people think of them.” Chrysler Corporation will not report quarterly earnings (nor management salaries/benefits), and LaSorda would not commit to continued reporting of monthly unit sales.
LaSorda expects a Cerberus to demand a similar level of governance than they are used to, and they will have to ultimately make money for them. They will also need, as LaSorda recognized, to clearly define goals and metrics for employees to be able to target and meet. But these elements need not be part of the public forum or debate, and ownership support for long-term over short-term objectives can significantly impact overall strategy.
LaSorda was clear and emphatic that the Chrysler Corporation’s management team will not change from that today at the Chrysler Group. No further job cuts are planned as a result of the new ownership, but the 13,000 cuts spelled out in February are still on the chopping block. Speculation will continue as to whether or not Wolfgang Bernhard is brought aboard again, but plans to make that change were vehemently denied.


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Cerberus Takes Chrysler Off Daimler's Hands

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Private equity firm Cerberus is in the process of taking Chrysler Group out of the hands of the automaker formerly known as DaimlerChrysler AG (DCX). What will soon become Daimler AG will continue to own 19.9% of the new company – Chrysler Holdings LLC – with Cerberus owning the remainder. This is the end of the Jurgen Schrempp dream for Daimler-Benz to create a global auto colossus made up of Mercedes-Benz, Freightliner, Chrysler, Mitsubishi and Hyundai.
Daimler-Benz took over (no merger – ever) Chrysler Corporation in November 1998 for $36 billion. Nine years later, DCX agreed to sell 80% of what is now Chrysler Group to Cerberus Capital for $7.4 billion. Clearly Schrempp’s plan did not work.
Impact on Opinion of Chrysler –
In late March, a VehicleVoice survey indicated that the opinion of Chrysler Group had deteriorated drastically from a year earlier. Our respondents variously said: “Daimler bought ’em, raped ’em and threw them away,” “Why would I buy a car from a company that’s parent company is trying to sell it?” Perhaps the purchase by Cerberus will serve to offset some of this deterioration, but time will tell.

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Cerberus Has Auto Industry Heavyweights Involved
Cerberus is the mythological three-headed dog that guards the gates of hell. Cerberus Capital is an interesting firm in its own right. Secretive to a fault, at least three auto industry heavyweights are on its letterhead (if they had one): David Thursfield, former Vice Chairman of Ford and an aggressive cost cutter; Wolfgang Bernhard, former COO of Chrysler Group (with Zetsche) and then head of Volkswagen in Germany prior to his Cerberus gig; and Robert Rewey, former head of Sales at Ford. Rewey could sell anything any day of the week. While Cerberus says they will keep the present Chrysler Group management team in place, it is only a matter of time that “adjustments” begin being made.
Remember the character in Pretty Woman played by Richard Gere? He was a private equity magnate that wanted to buy a shipbuilder, break it up and sell the pieces for a profit. A private equity firm like Cerberus isn’t too much different and the jury is still out on how Cerberus will handle its investment in Chrysler Group.
Cerberus has an interesting portfolio – a large stake in Delphi, 51% of GMAC – General Motors’ financing arm, Tower Automotive, Guilford Mills, Albertson’s, Sav-On, and others. The fact that Cerberus now controls Chrysler Financial and over half of GMAC gives it substantial clout in the automotive financial services market.
So, now, Chrysler Holdings can stay below the radar as a privately held company. Unfettered of its requirements to be transparent financially the company will largely be able to restructure itself outside the glare of the media and Wall Street. What will emerge after three, five or seven years is unknown, but the story will be fascinating to watch as is unfolds.


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