Chrysler Bidding Heats Up

By: Anthony Fontanelle

The Chrysler Group bidding continues to elicit an overwhelming hype and scorching heat in the automotive industry. Lately, suitors of the ailing American division of DaimlerChrysler AG have given their bids. And the second round of 'refined' bids is expected to be offered this week at the high-level management and supervisory board meetings.

According to a source familiar with the process, 'refined' bids likely to include firm financial details are due by mid-week. The offer of the bids is just in time for DCX's governing supervisory board to discuss details at its Wednesday meeting. Board members include the United Auto Workers (UAW) President Ron Gettelfinger.

Bidders, on the other hand, expected to include the Cerberus Capital Management, whose team includes Wolfgang Bernhard, the former Chrysler COO, as well as other former Ford Motor Co. executives. Cerberus is reported to be the leading bidder. Also in the pool of Chrysler's bidders is the duo of Blackstone, Wall Street's top private equity firm, and the Centerbridge Partners. Also, there's Magna International Inc., the Canadian parts supplier, which ventured with Onex.

"Whoever ends up with Chrysler would have Daimler as a minority shareholder for some period," said a ranking source familiar with the bidding. "But I don't foresee them being involved in the day-to-day management of the company."

Is the purchase deal shaping up? What about Chrysler's $18 billion health care liability? Analysts expect a scenario that envisions the UAW finally delivering Chrysler similar health care deal it has given GM and Ford thus saving as much as $400 million annually.

Furthermore, the parties would negotiate a deal inspired by a landmark pact at Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. According to the pact, the company would pay the union a lump sum to assume health care liabilities.

"Chrysler is not in bad shape," the ranking source said. "The recovery plan is achievable. Their product plan is in reasonably good shape." The issue is debatable. What is not arguable is the frantic handicapping about which group, whether Cerberus, the Blackstone-Centerbridge or Magna, may be chosen by DCX's ranking brass.

Gettelfinger, for instance, has been frank about his displeasure that private equity firms determined to make money are bidding to acquire the ailing Chrysler from its impatient German parent. Job one for the union is to keep Chrysler in the Daimler family, he told WJR-AM 760 Friday.

Another person close to the process said that DaimlerChrysler is poring over the bids and asking for more specifics as it moves toward picking a partner. In the previous weeks, Cerberus was considered the lead bidder on the strength of Bernhard. But the plight's brakes appear equipped with reliable . Cerberus' sudden egress from Delphi, troubles at GDX and taut public resistance from union leaders are prompting speculation that Magna could emerge as a front-runner. Or maybe not. Chrysler's suitors are quick to downplay conjecture that their offer is a leading bid.

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