Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Chrysler News:Chrysler and Fiat sign merger agreement

Italian carmaker Fiat and US car concern Chrysler have signed an agreement to merge their companies, Chrysler disclosed.

Chrysler, at its Auburn Hills, Michigan headquarters, said that the agreement is still preliminary and not yet binding.

Further details were not immediately disclosed. Earlier on Tuesday, Fiat deputy chairman John Elkann said that the Turin-based carmaker is in talks with Chrysler amid reports of a possible purchase by the Italian company of a majority stake in the ailing US producer.

"It is no secret that we are talking. It has been a while that we are in talks," Elkann, a heir of the Agnelli family which controls Fiat, was quoted as saying by the ANSA news agency.

Elkann indicated more details on a possible deal would be available following a Fiat statement later on Tuesday and a meeting of the company's board scheduled for Thursday.

Earlier on Tuesday, Milan's Bourse announced trading in Fiat stocks had been suspended pending the statement's release.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday that Fiat was considering acquiring a 35 per cent ownership in Chrysler by mid-year as the first step towards the acquisition of a possible majority stake in the US company.

The deal would give Fiat long-sought access to the US market for its small and mid-sized cars, with the Fiat 500 and Alfa Romeo reported to be at the top of the list.

Under the deal, Fiat could build its own small cars in the US and use the Chrysler distribution network. In exchange, Chrysler would tap Fiat's expertise building small and medium-sized cars to advance its own plans for new, front-wheel-drive models with lower emissions.

As petrol prices soared and the economy stalled, sales of Chrysler's mostly large, fuel-inefficient cars and trucks fell 30 per cent in 2008.

With auto sales at a 27-year low, Chrysler has laid off tens of thousands of workers and had to beg for government rescue financing of $US5.5 billion ($A8.21 billion) just to stay afloat for the next few months.

The loan terms require Chrysler to deliver a credible survival strategy by March, and an alliance with Fiat would be a tangible new strategy.

Fiat, which exclusively makes small cars with narrow profit margins, is struggling to keep its own head above water in Europe's expensive labour market.

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