Detroit Auto Industry: Reckoning to Revival

Failed Talks and an Italian Wedding

Sergio Marchionne

By August 2008, the situation was getting desperate. The Detroit Three were burning through billions every month. GM (GM) and Chrysler were running out of time. Chrysler's new owner, Cerberus Capital Management, was a New York private-equity firm named for the three-headed hellhound in Greek mythology that guards the gates of the underworld. In its first -- and last -- foray into automaking, Cerberus was feeling the heat of a hell of its own creation. It was looking for an exit strategy.

Chrysler President Tom LaSorda, an affable Canadian with an impish grin and a blue-collar background, was deputized to conduct "synergy studies" to find another company to pair up with the ailing automaker. LaSorda (no relation to the Hall of Fame baseball manager) had been Chrysler CEO in the waning days of Daimler ownership and his climb to the pinnacle of the company was a triumphant moment, if short-lived. He grew up in a small house, one of nine siblings, across the Detroit River in Windsor, Ontario, where his father built minivans in the Chrysler factory that could be seen from his front porch. Now LaSorda was second banana to Bob Nardelli, the well-dressed, smooth-talking former General Electric Co. (GE) and Home Depot Inc. (HD) executive Cerberus had installed as CEO in August 2007. Nardelli, recognizing LaSorda knew the car business better than he did, asked him to find a savior for the automaker.

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