DETROIT - Chrysler is making an operating profit and building cash, the No. 3 U.S. automaker's boss told reporters and industry executives on Wednesday as he unveiled a five-year plan to turn the company around.
Sergio Marchionne, chief executive of Fiat SpA, which controls Chrysler, said the automaker generated about $200 million in operating earnings in the third quarter, which it closed out with $5.7 billion in cash, up from $4 billion when it exited its U.S.-sponsored bankruptcy in June.
Some of you have been (presuming) that we are losing money ... this is not true, Marchionne said during a day-long presentation. Most of you underestimated the substantial reduction in fixed costs that was carried out by the old Chrysler. The new Chrysler is being incredibly parsimonious.
Analysts underestimated Chrysler's financial resilience after deep cost cutting by its former owner, Cerberus Capital Management, he said.
It was the first time Chrysler had disclosed financial information since a restructuring funded by $12 billion from the U.S. government that put the automaker under the management control of Fiat.
The company believes that sharing purchasing between Chrysler and Fiat will save it some $2.9 billion from 2010 through 2014.
It aims to streamline its vehicle lineup, focusing its Dodge brand on cars and minivans while turning Ram into a trucks-only line.
Think of the iPod, iPhone or Mac. They were part of the original Apple brand but also developed identities of their own, Fred Diaz, Ram's newly appointed chief, said in explaining the move.
Chrysler plans to build its Jeep brand to sell 800,000 units globally by 2014, up from 487,000 last year.
The company also plans to invest more than $120 million in its retail network in 2010 as it works to make dealerships more inviting to consumers.
In a bid to improve the fuel-efficiency of a truck-heavy lineup, Chrysler said it would roll out a Fiat engine and fuel-saving engine technology as soon as 2010. By 2014, it said it would have replaced almost three-quarters of Chrysler's current engine lineup.
'NO BUSINESS AS USUAL'
Chrysler Group Chairman Bob Kidder, who was appointed to represent the taxpayer interest at Chrysler, said the automaker would pay off U.S. government loans with all deliberate speed.
There is no business as usual at Chrysler. There is incredible commitment to, and energy for, change, Kidder said. We intend to make this a public company, a great public company, again.
Chrysler also plans to re-engineer some of its vehicles to work on Fiat-designed platforms, and aims to replace the Jeep-brand Patriot, Compass and Liberty with new vehicles based on a Fiat platform, as well as to roll out a new small Jeep-brand sport utility vehicle on another Fiat platform. The move is a way to lower costs.
Many top U.S. auto executives are watching closely to see Fiat's plans for Chrysler. Several executives interviewed at the Reuters Autos Summit in Detroit this week said they had been impressed by Marchionne's actions so far.
Chrysler has the most difficult challenge on every count and it's going to take all of Sergio's wonderful talents to meet that challenge, said Mike Jackson, CEO of No. 1 U.S. auto dealer AutoNation Inc, ahead of the presentation.
Chrysler has had past brushes with financial crisis -- including a federal bailout 30 years ago -- but the crushing decline in U.S. auto sales this year pushed it to the brink of outright collapse.
Steve Rattner, the former investment banker who oversaw the U.S. autos task force, said recently that he had put the odds of success for a Chrysler turnaround at just over 50 percent and that other figures in the administration had argued that the automaker should be allowed to fail.
Chrysler's larger rival, General Motors Co, went through its own government-sponsored bankruptcy, but GM has been far more open about its plans. (Reporting by Jo Winterbottom and Soyoung Kim; writing by Kevin Krolicki and Scott Malone, editing by Matthew Lewis)