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Aug. 27

Chrysler LLC, selling assets to raise cash as U.S. sales slide, said it's considering the possible sale of its Viper sports-car business.

``We have been approached by third parties who are interested in exploring future possibilities'' for the 600- horsepower, 10-cylinder car, Chief Executive Officer Bob Nardelli said today in a statement, without elaborating. The Auburn Hills, Michigan-based company hired Lazard Ltd. as financial adviser in the review of options for the business.

``My bet will be they will definitely be able to unload it,'' for a price of ``maybe $100 million,'' said James Gillette, an automotive consultant at CSM Worldwide Inc. in Grand Rapids, Michigan, who does asset valuations for customers.

Selling the Viper might help the third-largest U.S. automaker raise cash to help ride out a 23 percent decline in U.S. sales this year through July. The closely held company sold $647 million in assets this year through May 28, according to a June presentation by owner Cerberus Capital Management LP.

Chrysler's announcement comes as it rebuilds sales of the low-volume sport car, which is its most expensive vehicle, with prices starting at $88,125, and is hand-built at a Detroit plant slated to close by mid-2011. U.S. sales of the Viper more than doubled to 682 this year through July, already exceeding the 435 sold in all of 2007. Annual sales reached 2,103 in 2003.

The Viper began as a 1992 model and was considered the creation of Chrysler's then-president, Robert Lutz, who is now vice chairman of General Motors Corp.

Possible Buyers
Custom-vehicle builders such as Panoz Auto Development Co. or Shelby Automobiles Inc. would be logical buyers, Gillette said. Such builders would be able to continue the car for many years, he said.

Chrysler is expected to use up $2.5 billion in cash during 2008, a person familiar with the company's finances said in May. The automaker said it had $11.7 billion in cash and marketable securities at the end of June.

Former partner Daimler AG said yesterday that it assumed Chrysler's interest in a Chinese joint venture with Beijing Automotive Industry Holding Co. without revealing the terms. Daimler in May also agreed to purchase Chrysler's former California design studio. In March, Italian automaker Fiat SpA agreed to buy a Chrysler engine plant in Brazil.


LINK:Bloomberg.com: Worldwide
 
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