Few know the changes and turmoil at Chrysler better than Cathy Smith, a millwright at the automaker’s Trenton Engine Plant the past two decades: In 1998, Chrysler merged with Diamler-Benz AG, and when that unhappy marriage failed, the automaker was sold in 2007 to private equity firm Cerebrus Capital Management LP. After Chrysler entered bankruptcy in 2009, it emerged with Fiat SpA as a stakeholder.
“We’ve been through this before,” said Smith, 49. “It seems like Fiat is the most interested in making it work. I think we’re still kind of numb and we don’t know what to think. They own us now, but we don’t know what the effect will be yet.”
A vocal minority of participants on social media websites has attempted to create momentum in recent weeks — since the Chrysler-Fiat merger plans were made public — to figuratively kick Chrysler out of the Big Three club. Comments to Wednesday’s breaking news story on the new Fiat Chrysler Automobiles name prompted many mentions of “Big Two.”
“Screw @FIATUSA @Chrysler ... I refuse to consider them a member of the big three. #notamericannymore #big2,” read one of the more direct social media outbursts.
“That’s a good question,” Smith said in response to her thoughts on remaining a Big Three worker.
To be fair, the company will maintain corporate offices in Auburn Hills and Italy. And it’s not as if other automakers, namely Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Co., don’t have offices in other areas of the world.
But the public perception of an overseas headquarters for one of the Detroit Three is one of abandonment to some, and global importance to others. Add the fact Chrysler had to be bailed out by the government in 2009, and that leaves a sour taste for some.
“Should that tick off every American who saw his tax money used for a bailout of this company, and now they want to incorporate in the UK to save money on taxes?” WJR host and Detroit News contributing columnist Frank Beckmann asked on his radio show Wednesday.
Both Chrysler and Fiat are presently weak compared to other automakers. So leveraging the cars and knowledge Chrysler has in the United States with the vehicles and footprint Fiat has in Europe should help the combined automaker — now the seventh-largest in the world — become a bigger player in important, growing markets.
“Without this merger, there probably is no Chrysler,” said Stephanie Brinley, analyst at IHS Automotive. “It’d be very difficult for them to survive on their own without having this global footprint.”