Chrysler CEO Confident Of Recovery ... But Leaving Options Open

Rebound likely, Zetsche says, but change in perception will take time.

GENEVA (AP) - DaimlerChrysler AG Chief Executive Dieter Zetsche said Tuesday he is confident the plan to re-energize Chrysler will work, but reiterated that all options were still open for the unprofitable U.S. division.

''I'm sure we will see a rebound of Chrysler,'' Zetsche said at the 77th annual Geneva Motor show, though he offered no timetable. ''We're very confident that the (restructuring plan) is robust and doesn't require further steps.''

However, he acknowledged that DaimlerChrysler underestimated the time it takes to completely change perceptions of brands in the U.S. market place. ''It takes years to change the perception of a company,'' he said.

In the round-table interview, Zetsche said he could not, and would not, comment on DaimlerChrysler's exploration of alternatives for Chrysler.

But he did say that the German-American automaker and General Motors Corp. have started talks on joint-development plans for future products.

GM Chief Executive Rick Wagoner refused to discuss the specifics of those talks, saying: ''I will leave that to Zetsche.''

Zetsche's remarks follow reports in the United States that executives at the beleaguered Chrysler Group have been meeting with buyout experts and that DaimlerChrysler is preparing presentations for potential buyers.

The Detroit News, citing unidentified people close to the situation, said buyout experts from Cerberus Capital Management LP met with Chrysler Group executives to evaluate a possible bid for the unit.

The paper also reported that private equity firm Blackstone Group was scheduled to meet with Chrysler management later in the week, the newspaper said in the report that was published late Monday on its Web site and in Tuesday's printed editions.

Zetsche did not comment on the reports and neither did Cerberus.

They are the latest in a series of reports that have surfaced since Zetsche said Feb. 14 that all options are on the table for the money-losing Chrysler business and he would not rule out a possible sale.

Last year, GM sold its majority stake in its General Motors Acceptance Corp. to a group led by Cerberus.

Chrysler in February announced that it lost $1.48 billion in 2006 and said it expects losses to continue through 2007. Parent DaimlerChrysler, however, earned $4.26 billion in 2006.

The Chrysler losses were accompanied by the announcement of plans to shed 13,000 jobs, including 11,000 production workers and 2,000 salaried employees as Chrysler trims expenses and factory capacity as sales decline.

''When we made the announcement Feb. 14 we were aware that there would be some media reaction and were aware that some pressure would be building to give a timeline,'' Zetsche said, adding the company remained focused on the turnaround.

''Whatever the development we are focusing on this plan,'' he said.

On Monday, Zetsche said that the finance arm of Chrysler could be sold. The comment came at the Merrill Lynch Global Automotive Conference and Zetsche cited the move as an outside example of how costs could be trimmed.

''In case we would decide for an option that would change the current structure for the Chrysler Group, we have the option to do the same for the financial arm or not,'' Zetsche said during the conference, which was broadcast on the Internet.