Sen. Corker to Chrysler: best hope is merger
Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker (right, in the driver’s seat next to Mark Fields, Ford’s president of the Americas), who pushed for tough conditions on the $17.4 billion U.S. government bailout for General Motors and Chrysler, said at the Detroit auto show that he hoped Chrysler would find a merger partner to survive.
“Chrysler probably needs to merge with somebody, not necessarily disappear from the standpoint of existence,” said Corker, who added the automaker owned by Cerberus Capital Management was not making the needed investment to remain competitive. He spoke to reporters as he toured the show before meeting with executives for GM, Chrysler and Ford.
Corker, whose home state includes the U.S. headquarters for Japan’s Nissan, also said he felt GM’s debt load was too heavy and it may not meet the restructuring targets set out under the $13.4 billion loan granted to the company by the Bush administration.
The Republican senator met with GM Chief Operating Officer Fritz Henderson and, during his visit to the GM stand at the show, sat in the Cadillac Converj, a luxury model of the all-electric Chevrolet Volt concept car.
Corker said he loved the Jeep he drove before he came to Congress, though he did not specify which model. Chrysler, which received $4 billion in emergency loans, owns the Jeep brand.
The most contentious issue in the Bush administration’s bailout plan is a goal that seeks to bring hourly wages for the U.S. automakers’ unionized work force in line with those of Toyota and other Japanese automakers operating nonunion U.S. factories.
The labor give-back provisions were spearheaded by Corker and incorporated into the bailout. A proposal to strip the Corker-inspired labor provisions from the automaker rescue was included in legislation introduced in the House of Representatives last week.
The UAW has said it is open to making some changes to help GM and Chrysler lower costs, but has vowed to try and get the administration of President-elect Barack Obama to amend the giveback targets. Obama, a Democrat, takes office Jan. 20.
GM and Chrysler are under tight deadlines to show progress. The automakers must demonstrate to the government within several weeks that they are lowering costs and making other changes required under the Bush administration’s bailout plan.
Corker also made a point during his tour of saying he had flown a commercial plane to Detroit for his visit. “I came Northwest Airlines and I want you to know it was right on time.”
The CEOs for GM, Chrysler and Ford were criticized by lawmakers in November for separately flying company jets instead of less costly commercial planes to Washington as they sought billions in bailout funds from Congress.