Cerberus Bernhard Visits Chrysler Headquarter

By: Anthony Fontanelle

Wolfgang Bernhard, the Chrysler Group's ex-chief operating officer, who works for Cerberus, comes back for talks. Some analysts in the industry said that familiarity could serve as an advantage for Cerberus.

Bernhard returned to Auburn Hills on Thursday as a major player in the Cerberus Capital Management's bid to purchase the ailing American arm of DaimlerChrysler AG. According to people familiar with the situation, the visit to Chrysler headquarters was Bernhard's second for last week. The man is famed for his commitment in introducing a product renaissance during his three-year stint as chief operating officer at Chrysler.

Bernhard is now working with the New York-based firm in its effort to win a three-way bidding battle to acquire the Chrysler Group and brand. Cerberus is competing for Chrysler with rival private-equity firm Blackstone Group and Canadian supplier Magna International Inc. According to people familiar with the process, Daimler is expected to choose from one of the three soon to enter into exclusive negotiations. All three bidders have delivered study teams to Auburn Hills, Chrysler's headquarters. The teams met with Chrysler executives, toured its facilities and previewed its future products. Additionally, billionaire investor Kirk Kerkorian, the fourth promising bidder, has yet to be allowed the same access to Chrysler's internal data and operations.

During the first on-site visit of the Cerberus team in March, Bernhard was noticeably absent. But people familiar to Chrysler said that Bernhard met with the Chrysler management last weekend and again Thursday. "He walked right in the front door and went up to the executive offices," said one source who spoke on condition of anonymity. A Chrysler spokesman, on the other hand, declined to comment on the matter.

The presence of the 46-year-old German executive on the Cerberus team, along with the former Ford Motor Co. executive David Thursfield, has been perceived by some analysts as giving the firm an edge in the bidding process. "It gives them (Cerberus) a tremendous amount of credibility," said Joseph Phillippi of AutoTrends Consulting Inc. in Short Hills, N.J. "I suspect there's a lot of latent loyalty to someone like Bernhard inside (Chrysler)."

Bernhard joined Chrysler in 2001 after running the Mercedes-Benz high-performance AMG unit at DaimlerChrysler. As chief operating officer of Daimler's American arm, Bernhard was instrumental in the development of Chrysler's most recent round of hit products, including the 300C sedan.

At present, Chrysler is considering the potential manufacture of hardtop coupe and convertible versions of the 300. The proposed convertible will most likely be offering four doors. The convertible is not equipped with but its performance and driving dynamics could captivate spectators and aficionados alike.

The idea of the 300C convertible is inspired by the ASC Helios 300, launched at the 2005 Detroit Auto Show. The production of the Helios was stopped late last year. Nonetheless, a convertible version of the vehicle is available from Coach Builders Limited located in High Springs, Florida.

Bernhard's success at Chrysler won him a promotion in 2004 to run Mercedes. But after clashing with some managers and German unions, the offer was withdrawn by Daimler's supervisory board. Bernhard left Daimler and was joined Volkswagen AG. After a management shake-up early this year, Bernhard resigned as head of the Volkswagen brand. Now, Bernhard is aiming at Chrysler...

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