SANTA BARBARA, Calif.
One can see Detroit more clearly on a sunny day in California, where Detroit and its products mostly remain an afterthought.
This is import territory where Aston Martin, Audi, BMW, Ferrari, Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Lamborghini, Land Rover, Maserati, Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen rule the road.
It is not so much that Californians hate Detroit metal. They just don't think about it. Thus, to them, speculation that a struggling Chrysler Group will be bought in whole or in part by Chery Automobile of Wuhu, China, or by some other foreign car manufacturer makes perfect sense.
On the other hand, suggestions that Chrysler will be consumed by General Motors, a Detroit company that finally is getting its act together after years of financial losses and product disasters, make no sense at all in California, where marrying up and marrying right are essential to professional and political success.
Why would Detroit marry Detroit? What's the upside of that? How will it improve the fortunes of the newly wedded corporate couple in California, where import vehicles account for nearly 75 percent of the market?
Gee whiz! That would be like Britney Spears marrying Michael Jackson. Who wants that? Get out of here!
Some GM insiders agree, albeit not with the same amount of passion and ridicule one hears here in cocktail chatter about a potential GM-Chrysler hookup.
The inside line at GM says the corporation frequently holds talks with a number of rival car companies, including its chief domestic competitor, Ford, and other foreign manufacturers such as DaimlerChrysler, which owns the Chrysler Group; and with BMW, Toyota and Honda.
GM insiders point out that their company has a long history of such conversations, some of which, such as the most recent discussions with DaimlerChrysler and BMW, have resulted in technology development coalitions, like the dual-mode gas-electric hybrid system that soon will be brought to market by GM, BMW and Chrysler.
The likelihood of a recovering GM taking on the many problems of a financially wayward Chrysler Group "just doesn't make much sense" at this time, one top GM official said.
But nowadays in the topsy-turvy automobile industry, anything is possible, including the takeover of Chrysler by people who historically have had little to do with the business of building and selling cars and trucks. For example, Ed Lapham, a knowledgeable and well-respected columnist for the Detroit-based Automotive News, speculates that well-financed venture capitalists could put their considerable sums together to buy out Chrysler.
Why not? It could be a way to turn a quick profit. Venture capitalists are not as interested in running companies as they are in aggrandizing overall corporate value and selling off the parts to the highest bidders. They have no fear of doing business with the Chinese, or anyone else, as long as the potential buyers can show them the money.
Chery Automobile, a Chinese-government-backed business with ambitions of rapid growth and global expansion, especially into the lucrative North American market, has the money. That is why Chery has agreed to help Chrysler develop its next generation of small, fuel-efficient automobiles.
Chery isn't acting out of altruism or love for Chrysler. The Chinese company is smart. It has studied how its corporate Asian siblings entered the U.S. market -- initially by strengthening their visibility on the West Coast, where regional buyers are least resistant to import newcomers and are very supportive of Asian brands.
The Chinese know that what doesn't sell here as a Chrysler product could very well sell as an identifiable Asian model -- as long as the quality and price are right.
With Chrysler struggling and desperately in need of help, it all comes down to a matter of timing -- and Chery picking the market.