LONDON - Chrysler Corp. was code-named 'Cleveland.'
Daimler-Benz AG was named 'Denver.'
Those were the secret names as Chrysler Chairman Robert Eaton and Daimler Chairman Juergen Schrempp traded phone calls and messages during four months of hush-hush talks. Those talks led to the astonishing merger between Chrysler and Daimler-Benz.
In January, Schrempp, in Detroit for the auto show and a speech at the Automotive News World Congress, approached Eaton with the idea.
At a joint press conference last Thursday, May 7, Eaton said he had independently been thinking about the union and was nearly ready to pick up the phone himself.
Gary Valade, Chrysler CFO and a major player in the drama, said only a few Chrysler people were aware of the talks in their early stages. More recently, that grew to about 20, he said. Meetings took place in London and New York, including sessions during the New York auto show.
By March, the two sides had agreed to create a German corporation: DaimlerChrysler AG.
Negotiations moved steadily, Valade said. That was in contrast to talks between the two companies in 1995 and 1996, when they were looking at less dramatic joint ventures. At that time, neither company wanted to give up any independence.
But both chairmen now believe competition will force more mergers into the next millennium. It was time to jump in ahead of the pack.
'We are leading a new trend that we believe will change the future and face of this industry,' Eaton said. 'By being first, we had the ability to choose our favorite partner.'