In the news: Fiat chief Sergio Marchionne said that he's not sure if a deal will go through to merge with Chrysler -- not unless the unions make some substantial cuts to labor costs, and most notably, Canadian unions. Chrysler's U.S. chiefs have already taken swipes at the CAW, and now Italy is doing it, as well.
And the inner conspiracy theorist in me says: is there more to this than just the cost of labor?
Keep this in mind: Barack Obama has said he will free up $6 billion for Chrysler, but only if a deal with Fiat is cemented by April 30, 2009. Marchionne has said he won't ask the government for an extension if it doesn't happen by then.
Now, I like Chryslers as much as anybody; I've got three in my driveway, one of them a 2008 model. But I still think that if any of the Detroit Three are going to fold in this crisis, this is the one that'll go down, with the buzzards left picking out prime pieces like Jeep, Hemi and Caravan.
And I really don't think Fiat cares that much about selling its technology to Chrysler, not in the big picture. Fiat wants distribution, and it will only get that by moving in with an established automaker that already has a dealership network in place. I doubt it matters which one. But it will make a difference if the American car-buying public sees Fiat as the foreigner that took down Chrysler. They might not be buying the cars, but it's still an American company, and there's that matter of pride (and jobs, of course).
So here's my theory. Fiat wants into the U.S., and Chrysler's the one most willing to talk. If Fiat decides the deal isn't in its favor, Chrysler doesn't get its $6 billion, and that will pretty much be the beginning of the end. Blaming U.S. auto workers won't earn Fiat many friends among American buyers, either. But if it blames Canadians -- if Canadian auto workers were the reason the deal failed and Chrysler came down -- then Fiat will still have a fighting chance to hook up with someone else and bring its cars over. It wasn't their fault. And all those Americans who lost their direct or indirect jobs when Chrysler folds will look to the north, and lay the blame as well.