Embattled DaimlerChrysler AG Chairman Juergen Schrempp said he is determined to get the company's Chrysler unit "back where it belongs -- at the top of the industry."
January 15, 2001
Schrempp made no mention of a Sunday Times report that DaimlerChrysler's two largest shareholders have given him six months to turn Chrysler around and were in favor of selling the struggling U.S. unit. Both the automaker and one of the shareholders, Deutsche Bank, denied the report.
But Schrempp said he saw no scenario in which Chrysler would be sold or spun off. He said DaimlerChrysler has "sufficient time and sufficient money" to turn its Chrysler unit around. Chrysler is scrambling to reverse losses of nearly $2 billion in the second half of 2000.
Schrempp used part of his 25-minute speech to explain how DaimlerChrysler has been trying to resurrect its struggling U.S. unit since November, when he replaced group president Jim Holden with German executive Dieter Zetsche.
"We had to move, and we moved decisively," Schrempp said of the management change. "You may hear some discordant sounds here and there, but that is because we are gearing up for real performance."
He said that Zetsche and his team at Chrysler headquarters in Auburn Hills, Mich., have been working day and night on developing a restructuring strategy that will be announced on Feb. 26.
The DaimlerChrysler chairman also assured conference attendees that Chrysler and its sister unit, Daimler, were on equal ground. During a question and answer session after his speech, Schrempp said, "Take it from me, this was genuinely a merger of equals." He also said that the DaimlerChrysler board of directors has complied with the merger document "by letter and by spirit."
Schrempp faces several lawsuits, none more noteworthy than one filed by billionaire financier Kirk Kerkorian -- a $8 billion suit that alleges securities fraud and seeks a breakup of the merger. Kerkorian, DaimlerChrysler's No. 3 shareholder, alleges that Schrempp and other key executives committed fraud by concealing their true intentions for the merger in 1998.
When asked whether the U.S. unit might share platforms with Mercedes-Benz, Schrempp replied with an emphatic, "No." But he said that it's possible that Chrysler will share platforms with Mitsubishi.
Schrempp was also asked why an American executive would not have been able to take the reigns of the U.S. unit. He said DaimlerChrysler did not consider nationality when it looked for a successor to Holden. He said Zetsche is simply the best person to lead the company. He also said that an American could take over as Chrysler CEO in the future.