SOMEDAY, AUTO industry historians may use terms like 10DC or 50DC as a measure of time, referring to 10 or 50 years after DaimlerChrysler.
The merger thrusts the industry into a new era. Finally. We've been expecting this shake-up for about 15 years. Now we'll learn what globalization really means.
Consolidation is inevitable in the aftermath of DaimlerChrysler. And it will be true consolidation, not the piecemeal kind that has been occurring since the mid-1980s.
Daimler-Benz and Chrysler made a sudden and unprovoked first strike. With terrifying swiftness two of the world's most attractive auto partners are taken. Whether they are perfectly matched can be debated. But rarely, if ever, has the auto industry seen this kind of marriage of strength with strength.
Every significant alliance of the last 20 years has involved a strong partner and a weak one. Every attempted merger of 'equals' - Ford and Fiat, Fiat and Chrysler, Chrysler and Volkswagen, Volvo and Renault - failed to materialize. Either nerves faltered or neither side was willing to be junior partner.
Instead, big companies have been content to swallow Talbot, Alfa Romeo, Jaguar, Rover, Saab, Skoda, Seat and Mazda - sometimes choking on them.
In the case of DaimlerChrysler there is no digesting to be done. It is the first modern takeover that has nothing to do with rescuing a company, reviving a great brand or scooping up a bargain. It is about dominating the world and producing synergies not calculable on any known scale.
In the new era of true consolidation, strong companies will seek stronger allies. BMW and Volkswagen don't need any more companies to fix. They need an accomplice. Like Honda, for instance.
The post-DaimlerChrysler world will probably consist of several giant Euro-Japanese-American amalgams. But the very next merger of titans may involve DaimlerChrysler itself. The deal didn't deplete cash reserves, it raked them into a huge new pile.
Daimler-Benz is already going after Nissan Diesel, the heavy truck manufacturer. And if DaimlerChrysler is talking to Nissan Diesel, then it is talking to Nissan.
When the dust has settled there may be a new No. 1 in the world. DaimlerChryslerNissan would surpass GM in revenues. So would FordFiat.
Some companies will merge out of necessity. Nissan, Renault and PSA/Peugeot-Citroen cannot afford to be isolated.
Fiat's Agnelli family may be more agreeable to merger following the death of its next-generation leader, young Giovannino Agnelli.
Much depends on whether the Japanese accept the idea of the grand global alliance. If so, Nissan, Honda or Mitsubishi is likely to move first. Conventional wisdom is that Toyota will wait. It already possesses the best elements of Chrysler and Daimler-Benz - Chrysler's lean production and nimble product development and Mercedes' quality. Hiroshi Okuda may feel that he doesn't need a strategic, global partner.
But Okuda and Toyota have surprised us before. So has Ferdinand Piech.
ToyotaVolkswagen? Nothing is unthinkable in the new era.