Fiat asks U.S. court to help set Chrysler stake price
TURIN (Reuters) -- Italian automaker Fiat filed a lawsuit in a U.S. court against the healthcare trust that owns part of Chrysler Group LLC, claiming the trust failed to meet its obligation to sell a 3.3 percent stake in Chrysler, after the two sides disagreed on the value of the transaction.
Fiat, which owns 58.5 percent of Chrysler, claims the trust was obligated on July 11 to deliver "Chrysler membership units" equal to 3.3 percent of the company, according to the lawsuit filed on Wednesday with the Court of the Chancery of Delaware.
As part of the 2009 agreement with the U.S. Treasury as Chrysler emerged from bankruptcy, Fiat is able to exercise call options to purchase portions of the stake held by the healthcare trust, known as the Voluntary Employees Beneficiary Association.
On July 3, Fiat exercised an option to purchase 3.3 percent of Chrysler, to be delivered on July 11.
"At no time has the VEBA disputed that Fiat has the right to exercise its call options to purchase Chrysler membership units," Fiat said in the 11-page court filing. "Instead, the dispute between the parties relates solely to the appropriate price to be paid by Fiat."
Fiat said in a statement issued in Italy, "While it is unfortunate that we were unable to resolve the issue without the assistance of the courts, we are hopeful the matter will be resolved swiftly."
VEBA officials could not be immediately reached for comment.
Fiat, acting in the lawsuit through its unit Fiat North America LLC, said that a specific formula for setting the price of the transaction was set up in a 2009 agreement with the U.S. Treasury.
The price derived from that formula was not revealed in the lawsuit.
Fiat said it needed the court's assistance "in the application of a specific pricing formula which was agreed in 2009 and as such unrelated to the value of Chrysler today."
VEBA owns the remaining 41.5 percent of Chrysler.
In the 2009 agreement, Fiat has the right to increase its stake in Chrysler by 3.3 percent every six months by using the call option, beginning July 1, 2012. This is the first of those call options.
In 2009, Fiat was the stronger of the two automakers but due largely to the economic crisis in Europe, those roles have been reversed. In July, Fiat reported a second quarter loss of 246 million euros (US$318 million) while Chrysler reported a profit of $436 million (337 million euros) and said it would show a 2012 operating profit of at least $3 billion (2.32 billion euros).
When Chrysler emerged from its government-sponsored bankruptcy in 2009, Fiat owned 20 percent of the new company and took management control.
Since then, it has increased its ownership, in part by meeting requirements set by the U.S. government in 2009, including increasing sales outside its stronghold of North America and producing a highly fuel-efficient car.
Chrysler also paid back loans from the U.S. and Canadian governments six years early and exercised options to increase ownership.Contact Automotive News