Chrysler begins its Fiat education . . . in Poland

Now that it has emerged from bankruptcy with the help of the American taxpayer, Chrysler needs to make small cars efficiently to survive. Fiat will be a huge help with its contribution of small-engine technology, but it looks like Chrysler can learn efficient production techniques from Fiat’s factory in Tychy, Poland.

The mammoth Fiat plant here, which churned out nearly half a million cars last year, may hold some of the answers for Chrysler (as well as Ford Motor and General Motors), as it struggles to regain its footing after its bankruptcy and reduce its dependence on muscle-bound trucks and sport utility vehicles.

For those who remember Fiat before its ignominious retreat from the American market — the name was said to stand for “Fix It Again, Tony” — the Italian automaker may seem an unlikely role model. It left the United States in the early 1980s after widespread quality problems.

But Fiat itself has undergone a revolution under Sergio Marchionne, who became its chief executive in 2004, raising standards for quality and reliability at plants like Tychy and mastering the art of building smaller cars with high efficiency. Chrysler hopes he can do the same thing for it now that he has assumed control of the American company.

“We are lucky there is a crisis,” said the director of the Tychy plant, Zdzislaw Arlet, unable to resist a gibe at the bigger cars and trucks that have traditionally stolen the industry spotlight. “Everybody wants to build small cars now.”

At Tychy (pronounced TICK-ee), one secret is flexibility: The latest robotic technology is balanced by workers who can quickly shift models to match demand. That is one reason Tychy is operating around the clock, six days a week, while most other auto plants in Europe and the United States are running at a fraction of capacity, increasing costly nonproductive downtime.

Marchionne has proven that he’s a great car guy, and there’s reason to be optimistic about his ability to transform Chrysler. With this visit the process has begun.


Chrysler will keep the Dodge Viper alive


The new Chrysler is off to a fast start as it decides to reverse a decision to kill off or sell the Dodge Viper nameplate.

Chrysler Group LLC announced today that production will continue for the legendary Dodge Viper SRT10.

Originally slated to cease production in December 2009, the Chrysler Group Conner Avenue Assembly Plant — the exclusive home of Dodge Viper production since 1995 — will continue to build the V-10 powered sports car. Chrysler Group is no longer pursuing a sale of the Viper business assets.

“The Dodge Viper has successfully captured the hearts and imagination of performance enthusiasts around the globe,” said Mike Accavitti, President and Chief Executive Officer, Dodge Brand. “We’re extremely proud that the ultimate American-built sports car with its world-class performance will live on as the iconic image leader for the Dodge brand.”

Hopefully this decision bodes well for the new company. The Dodge Viper is an impressive performance vehicle, and the new Chrysler needs signature vehicles for branding purposes.


GM clears important hurdle in bankruptcy

The Chrysler bankruptcy set the standard, and now GM is steamrolling its way through the bankruptcy process with the support of the Obama administration.

A federal judge approved a plan by General Motors late on Sunday to sell its best assets to a new, government-backed company, a crucial step for the automaker to restructure and complete its trip through bankruptcy court.

The decision by the judge, Robert E. Gerber of United States Bankruptcy Court in Manhattan, came after three days of hearings to address the 850 objections to the restructuring plan and after he had received a revised sale order from G.M.’s lawyers.

A group of individual accident litigants appealed the ruling on Monday morning, Bloomberg News reported.

In his 95-page opinion, Judge Gerber wrote that he agreed with G.M.’s main contention: that the asset sale was needed to preserve its business in the face of steep losses and government financing that is scheduled to run out by the end of the week.

“Bankruptcy courts have the power to authorize sales of assets at a time when there still is value to preserve — to prevent the death of the patient on the operating table,” Judge Gerber wrote.

Many bankruptcy experts expressed doubt that Chrysler and GM could move so quickly through bankruptcy, but these are extraordinary times, and the courts seem sympathetic to the arguments by the government that a speedy, negotiated reorganization with the support of the government offers the only viable alternative to a destructive liquidation.


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