Magna files second bid for Chrysler

By Tim Higgins From Free Press Business| May 04 2007
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Magna International Inc. wants to go to the next round in its attempt to buy the Chrysler Group.

The Canadian auto-parts supplier filed its new bid Tuesday, seeking to become a finalist to buy the struggling Auburn Hills automaker, the Free Press has learned.

It was unclear when or whether private equity suitors Blackstone Group and Cerberus Capital Management made their bids, though the Free Press has been told the two groups are still in the hunt.

DaimlerChrysler is expected to decide as early as this week -- though possibly not until next week -- who gets to continue the due diligence and negotiation process.

Representatives for all of the groups declined comment Wednesday.

"Everything is still going. All options are still open," DaimlerChrysler spokesman Han Tjan said.

Magna is believed to be partnered with Canadian investment company Onex Corp. in its bid for a deal that would make Magna a minority owner.

Officials from Onex visited the Auburn Hills headquarters a couple of weeks ago to meet with high-level Chrysler executives.

Magna officials have said that because DaimlerChrysler is the company's largest customer it is crucial for them to fully understand the situation at Chrysler.

In addition to the Magna group and the private equity firms, Kirk Kerkorian, who tried to buy Chrysler in the 1990s, has offered $4.5 billion, but his rocky relationship with DaimlerChrysler is believed to have kept his bid from getting much serious consideration.

UAW members in Toledo suggested the union buy the Chrysler Group, but UAW President Ron Gettelfinger, who has said repeatedly that he wants to keep DaimlerChrysler from splitting, has publicly referred to the idea only as "sketchy."

The possible sale of the Chrysler Group first became a public reality Feb. 14, when DaimlerChrysler Chief Executive Dieter Zetsche refused to rule out selling the unit that originally reported an operating loss of $1.5 billion for last year. Last month, DaimlerChrysler changed its accounting practices and Chrysler's restated loss is now $680 million.

In April, Zetsche said the company was in talks with interested parties about Chrysler's future but noted that even if a sale occurs, he does not want all ties between Chrysler and Mercedes severed.

Several analysts have speculated that DaimlerChrysler would seek to keep a minority stake in Chrysler.

Some have said Magna appears to be the frontrunner at the moment with vocal support coming from the Canadian Auto Workers union, which opposes private equity ownership.

But that might not matter in the end.

Cerberus, for example, has deep pockets and has shown how serious it is about a bid, hiring former Chrysler Chief Operating Officer Wolfgang Bernhard to advise on the deal. Cerberus is one of the world's largest private investment firms with $22 billion under management, of which 14% is in the automotive industry.

Last year, Cerberus purchased 51% of General Motor Corp.'s financing arm GMAC.

The Chrysler Group is undergoing its second major turnaround plan in a decade, cutting 13,000 jobs over the next three years, reducing capacity and promising to improve its powertrain lineup with more fuel efficient engines.

Any buyer could inherit an estimated $16.5 billion in pension and health care liabilities.

 

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