Saturday, May 2, 2009

Deja vu all over again

Déjà vu all over again

Yes, folks, when it comes to Chrysler and Kenosha, it’s déjà vu all over again.

Part of me feels that Chrysler’s plan to close the Kenosha engine plant should come as no surprise. We’ve been there before -- more than once.

In case you forgot -- or you were too young to remember -- Chrysler ceased auto production in Kenosha in 1988, just a couple of years after it bought out American Motors.

Before that time there was great optimism that Chrysler and AMC were a great fit. Kenosha’s AMC workers turned out a quality product and it was stunning when Chrysler pulled the plug on making cars here, keeping only a smaller work force at the engine plant.

Chrysler, of course, kept the plum of the AMC takeover: the Jeep line. And, to Chrysler’s credit, the Kenosha engine plant was modernized, well-run and had good labor relations.

Yet we should forgive anyone if they feel that Chrysler may not have been playing with a full deck when it spent the last three years wooing union concessions in order to make Kenosha an attractive place to manufacture its new Phoenix engine line.

And this week -- just one day after Chrysler workers voted to grant the company more concessions -- Chrysler put itself into bankruptcy and in its filing announced eight plants, including Kenosha, are slated for closure.

Skepticism, too, should be forgiven. This bankruptcy filing didn’t just happen overnight. The paperwork had to be in preparation for days and weeks, perhaps months. They didn’t just pull this out of thin air and run it over to the federal courthouse the next morning.

Then there’s the Fiat connection.

Fiat was supposed to be Chrysler’s savior. Uh-huh.

An Italian automaker that turns out flashy but less than reliable products is a good fit for an American automaker that turns out flashy but less than reliable products. Uh-huh.
Wasn’t Daimler supposed to be Mopar’s savior? At least the German automaker has the ability to turn out somewhat decent products. We all know that Daimler bailed.

And did anyone forget how Renault -- a French automaker that turns out less than reliable products -- once owned a significant chunk of AMC but, at the end of the day, also failed to be a knight in shining armor.

The only thing that really seemed to work was when Lee Iacocca was at the helm and Chrysler got loan guarantees -- not a cash bailout -- from Uncle Sam.

Iacocca got Chrysler’s act together, eventually satisfied its creditors and his name became a household word. Who’s the CEO of Chrysler now? Does anyone know? Does anyone care.

I could go on and on about all the incentives the state and union gave Chrysler over the years but you get the picture. Perhaps, just perhaps, this is déjà vu all over again.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

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