Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Fiat Nears Stake in Chrysler That Could Lead to Takeover

By STACY MEICHTRY in Rome and JOHN STOLL in Detroit
In an attempt to revive two of the world's storied auto makers, Italy's Fiat SpA and Chrysler LLC are poised to announce a partnership as soon as today in which Fiat could take control of the U.S. company's operations, people familiar with the matter said.

Under terms of a pact that is being hammered out, Fiat is likely to take a 35% stake in Chrysler by the middle of this year. It would have the option of increasing that to as much as 55%, these people said.

Fiat, the stronger of the two, wouldn't immediately put cash into Chrysler. Instead it would obtain its stake mainly in exchange for covering the cost of retooling a Chrysler plant to produce one or more Fiat models to be sold in the U.S., these people said. Fiat would also provide engine and transmission technology to help Chrysler introduce new, fuel-efficient small cars, they said.

The deal is the latest maneuver by Fiat's chief, Sergio Marchionne, who has pulled the Italian company back from the brink collapse since taking over in 2004.

The partnership would provide each company with economies of scale and geographical reach at a time when both are struggling to compete with larger and more global rivals like Toyota Motor Corp., Volkswagen AG and the alliance of Renault SA and Nissan Motor Co.

Chrysler last year sold two million cars and trucks world-wide, with almost all of its sales in North America. Fiat sold 2.5 million vehicles and is heavily dependent on Europe -- particularly its home market in Italy.

While Fiat has a wider global reach than Chrysler, the two auto makers are smaller players compared to their global rivals. Toyota and General Motors, for instance, each have sold more than nine million vehicles annually...More

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