Thursday, October 23, 2008

Chrysler's Jim Press downplays sale talk

Chrysler's Press downplays sale talk
Tom Krisher / Associated Press
DETROIT -- Reports that Chrysler LLC is being shopped for sale by its owners are just speculation, a top Chrysler executive said Wednesday night.

Vice Chairman and President Jim Press said Chrysler would "be here," saying he had confidence in the company.

"There's not a lot of reason to talk about mergers and things like that because it's all speculation. We've been doing fine," he told reporters after speaking to a Society of Automotive Engineers' conference on vehicle electronics.

People familiar with the talks have told The Associated Press that Chrysler's owners are talking to General Motors Corp., the combined Nissan Motor Co.-Renault SA, and others about a possible sale or merger. The people have asked not to be identified because the talks are private.

During his speech, Press said there was no reason for concern.

"The best thing we can do is focus on our business at hand and try to match and beat the competitors," he said, telling the engineers that they would lead the U.S. auto industry out of its slump.

Chrysler, he said, has changed its business model by reducing the size of the company to match sales, stopping a high level of negative cash flow and stabilizing its finances for the company to go forward.

"Maybe that's one of the reasons why a lot of people have been smelling around the Chrysler vault lately, I don't know," he said.

Chrysler reportedly has about $11 billion in cash, something that cash-starved GM is interested in accessing. GM is burning through $1 billion in cash per month and would have difficulty borrowing more money. Analysts say it could reach the minimum amount needed to run the company sometime next year.

If GM acquired Chrysler, many fear it would eliminate redundant brands and models and lay off thousands of workers.

After speaking, Press repeatedly said he wouldn't respond to sale questions because they were based on rumor and speculation. The reports have filled the Detroit area with worry about thousands of job losses.

During the speech, which took place in a hotel ballroom inside GM's downtown Detroit headquarters complex, Press called the sale talk the elephant in the room and joked about why he was at GM's offices.

"We only came here for the dinner. That's the only reason we're in this building," he said. "And we really can't say anything else about the fact that we're here."

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