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Chrysler dealers upbeat about purchase of US automaker by Italy's Fiat

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NEW ORLEANS - Chrysler dealers from around the U.S. seem revved up by the purchase of the U.S. carmaker by Italy's Fiat SpA.

They were attending the National Automobile Dealers Association convention in New Orleans on Saturday — four days after Fiat announced that it had bought the last big chunk of Chrysler stock to make the U.S. company a wholly owned subsidiary.

"I think it's well deserved," said Pamela Burger of Carl Burger Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram World in the San Diego suburb of La Mesa, Calif. "They picked us up out of bankruptcy when we couldn't even be bought, and have grown us over five years. ... They helped us grow instead of stripping us of money and assets."

And, she said, "The quality gets better and better."

Fiat has been running Chrysler since 2009 and owned nearly 60 per cent of Chrysler's shares but lacked full control until Fiat-Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne won a hard-fought deal with the union-controlled trust fund that owned the remaining 41.5 per cent of the stock. With the deal complete, Marchionne can push deeper integration and decide where the joint company will be based and listed, as well as its name.

Clay White of Starr Motors in Suffolk, Va., praised Fiat's leadership, "which is something we didn't have with Cerberus or Daimler. Daimler just pillaged the money from Chrysler and took it back to Germany. My opinion."

Chrysler and Daimler-Benz AG merged in 1998 to form DaimlerChrysler. Sold in 2007 to Cerberus Capital Management and renamed Chrysler LLC, the company filed in 2009 for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization.

Chrysler, of Auburn Hills, Mich., logged its ninth straight profitable quarter in the third quarter of 2013, earning $464 million and propping up Fiat, which is struggling in a down European market. Without Chrysler, Fiat would have lost $340 million in that quarter; instead it earned $260 million.

"In South America, Chrysler is seen as a very premium product" — much more prestigious than Fiat, said Fiat dealer Juan Pablo Meivide (may-VEE-duh) of TOP West SA in San Justo, Argentina.

Alabama state Sen. Dick Brewbaker, a member of the third generation at Brewbaker Motors in Montgomery, says he's very impressed by the vehicles' interior design and the company's marketing.

"At first I was a little cautious" about the merger he said. "I will say it has far and away exceeded my expectations."

He said that within five months of the purchase, dealers saw greatly improved vehicles, especially the interiors. The company's marketing also improved, he said.

"I think it was a distraction for a while for Sergio," said Don Lee of Lee Auto Malls of Maine, in Westbrook, Maine. "Now that's out of the way he'll focus more on business of Chrysler and Fiat."

He added, "I always gauge the success of these manufacturer meetings by the amount of complaining that goes on during question-and-answer. It was relatively quiet — a good sign."

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