Suitors are lining up to buy the Chrysler Group, once a lustrous chunk of corporate America, and there is a Canadian among them.
He is Frank Stronach, founder and chairman of Aurora, Ont.-based Magna International, the parts supplier that does everything but manufacture automobiles.
Stronach is likely driven by a combination of ego and a desire for self-preservation since his company is Chrysler's largest supplier of parts.
There are three others in line and analysts are somewhat puzzled by the level of interest because the automaker has a mountain of problems.
The German automaker Daimler-Benz acquired Chrysler in 1998 for US$40 billion.
It will be lucky to get US$5 billion back and some observers say Chrysler actually may be worth zero due to unfunded pension and health-care costs that total US$21.6 billion.
"The legacy costs are horrific," says New Jersey-based auto analyst Joe Phillippi.
"To put a deal together, the buyers are going to have to make some heroic assumptions as to what they can do to fix all of this, which will include a substantial number of concessions (from the workers)."
Chrysler isn't the only automaker saddled with legacy costs it can't hope to cover. General Motors has reported that its unfunded pension and health-care liabilities total US$45 billion while Ford is on the hook for US$34 billion.
These problems are a legacy of the good old days when GM, Ford and Chrysler really were the Big Three and controlled about 90 per cent of the American market.
The United Auto Workers, which represents unionized employees with the companies, could squeeze the carmakers for wildly generous health and pension packages at contract time and the Big Three could pass on the costs to consumers.
But GM, Ford and Chrysler now control only about 51 per cent of the market and most other manufacturers do not have the same uncompetitive provisions in their contracts.
Dennis DesRosiers, Canada's leading auto industry consultant, says the American automakers have been sucked into a death spiral and there is no consensus on how to rescue them.
"One of the reasons they're uncompetitive is because of all the things they've agreed to in labour negotiations," he says. "The more market share they lose, the less money they have to pay pension and health-care costs.
"They can close plants and cut workers, but the workers negotiate early severance packages, which adds to their pension and health-care liabilities."
One way out, DesRosiers says, is to declare bankruptcy and go into Chapter 11 receivership, a desperate measure that has worked for several American steelmakers and airlines.
Receivers have the power to chop health-care benefits arbitrarily, but must negotiate changes to pensions because they are protected by law.
At the end of the process, companies usually emerge with much more viable cost structures.
But the automakers simply cannot contemplate Chapter 11 bankruptcy, DesRosiers concedes.
Their sales would collapse and they would never come out with a healthy balance sheet.
So what to do? There aren't any clear answers. GM and Ford have been able to negotiate reduced health-care benefits, but the UAW balked at extending the same offer to Chrysler because it was backed by DaimlerBenz.
Now the Germans have decided to take their lumps and get out.
Canadian autoworkers are in a somewhat better position than their American counterparts.
For one thing, this country's stringent pension laws do not allow companies to build up unfunded liabilities, which has happened south of the border.
Equally important, Canada's universal, publicly funded health-care plan relieves private companies of the burden of directly financing health care for their workers.
But these are small advantages in an industry that is dangerously overloaded with excess costs and Canadian workers could not get out unscathed if an automaker goes down.
At this point, though, no one is discussing that potential nightmare.
Only Chrysler is in play. Whoever gets it will be after big concessions from the unions and that could be the first step in restoring to health an industry that is vital to the well-being of hundreds of communities, thousands of companies and millions of workers.
(D'Arcy Jenish can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)