Fiat a compli

March 30, 2009

GENERAL-MOTORS/In retrospect, GM CEO Rick Wagoner’s demise was perhaps the most inevitable twist in the autos overhaul saga to date. The chance that he would present a radical plan to Obama this week, one dramatic enough to save his job, was slim at best. A more shocking result, one clearly less viable for Obama, would have been to make a few more threatening noises and hand out the cash that the company so desperately needs without demanding a very public pound of flesh – a head, in this case.

With only another 60 days to effect a U-turn in defiance of a skidding market, former GM COO Fritz Henderson doesn’t have a lot of room to maneuver. It’s hardly enough time for Washington to have installed a new crash-test chief executive.

The Chrysler bailout story is more intriguing. The private-equity owned car maker has been given 30 days to do a deal with Fiat, which has in deal talks to date pledged somewhere around zero in financial support. If that price was too much for the Italian auto maker, they may think that the ticking of the clock could give them some leverage to squeeze a few billion out of either Chrysler’s private-equity owners or U.S. taxpayers.

While Fiat managers may feel like kids in a Hot Wheels factory, they should probably temper their enthusiasm. Giving a foreign car maker U.S. taxpayer dollars would probably be politically poisonous to Obama, leaving bankruptcy a more viable option for the private-equity venture.

Deals of the Day:

* Turkey’s Sabanci family is buying a 15.3 percent in German airline Air Berlin, scooping up part of Len Blavatnik’s stake, more than two months after the U.S. billionaire sold the holding.

* Chinese car maker Geely Automobile Holdings will pay up to about A$58 million ($40.22 million) for its acquisition of Australian automatic transmission supplier Drivetrain Systems International (DSI).

* Reclusive, cash-rich Russian oil firm Surgutneftegaz made its first move on foreign markets, getting a foothold in eastern Europe with a surprise deal to buy 21 percent of Hungarian oil group  MOL.

* OTE, Greece’s biggest telephone company, has agreed to sell its Macedonian mobile phone unit Cosmofon and retail chain Germanos Telekom Skopje to Slovenia’s Telekom Slovenije.

(PHOTO: General Motors Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner addresses the media during a news conference at GM world headquarters in Detroit, Michigan February 17, 2009.  REUTERS/Rebecca Cook)

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