TAKEN FOR A RIDE by Bill Vlasic


How Daimler-Benz Drove Off with Chrysler and the Risks of Going Global
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A carefully documented yet spirited account of a corporate marriage seemingly made in hell.

Nothing in the corporate cultures of Germany's Daimler-Benz and America's Chrysler suggested that the two would make a good match, according to Detroit News journalists Vlasic and Bradley: "Daimler and Chrysler didn't develop, manufacture, market, or sell cars the same way. Daimler executives had larger staffs and fatter expense accounts. Chrysler officers had broader responsibilities and bigger salaries and bonuses." Vlasic and Stertz also note that Daimler was worth much more than Chrysler, by nearly every measure, and that Daimler's staff spoke fluent English and was perfectly at home in the global market, whereas the Detroit-based firm was resolutely insular and proud of its blue-collar, made-in-America ethos. Even so, in the mid-1990s, when billionaire investor Kirk Kerkorian began to maneuver against self-promoting Chrysler chairman Lee Iacocca for control of the company—initiating, for instance, steps to buy up stock and return Chrysler to its former privately held status—he found curious allies in the German and Swiss executives who controlled Daimler-Benz (and who sought to broaden their American—and then the Asian—market). In 1998, after long, cloak-and-dagger negotiations that the authors recount in vivid detail, the parties engineered what has been called "the biggest industrial merger of all time," involving a swap of stock valued at $38 billion and a restructuring of the corporate giants on both sides of the Atlantic. The merger had unforeseen consequences large and small; the authors note, for instance, that Kerkorian, who had ordered a new Boeing jet for his own use, had to switch to an Airbus, for with the union of Chrysler and Daimler he had become the largest single private investor in the Airbus consortium. More to the point, after the Germans "took control over an American icon," they found themselves heading an unwieldy entity that may in the end do damage both to the Mercedes and the Chrysler brands (and one that, in any event, "did not make any money for shareholders on either side of the Atlantic Ocean").

Sometimes breathlessly narrated but always interesting, this is a solid work of popular business reporting.

Pub Date: July 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-688-17305-5
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 2000