May 5th, 2009
08:45 AM ET

Dear President Obama #106: No chrying over Chrysler

Reporter's Note: Our President has a big job and he’s asked us to help. Maybe we can’t all crowd into the Oval Office (because that would be one mighty big oval!) but we can do as he has asked, by sending ideas his way. Mine go out each day in a letter.

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Tom Foreman | Bio
AC360° Correspondent

Dear Mr. President,

Well, I guess the big, initial storm over the Chrysler bankruptcy has blown past and now it’s time to just see how it plays out. I’m always baffled by these massive companies getting into so much trouble. I mean, everyone and his brother has a car in this country; how hard can it be to sell them?

You know how many vehicles are registered in America? More than 247-million. Enough that if we put them bumper to bumper we could park them from here to the moon, back to earth, and back to the moon again. (Granted, this is a parking arrangement that would present some logistical problems, but it can’t be any worse than the Beltway at rush hour.) And while not taking anything away from the hardworking laborers who have toiled for Chrysler all these years, you’ve got to wonder, with that kind of demand, what the heck went wrong?

I’ve read all about shifting markets and legacy costs and legal issues and labor unions and yadda, yadda, yadda. But as explanations they all leave me strangely unsatisfied; like a Holly Hunter movie. Too often they sound more like excuses; like executives and politicians trying to reverse engineer a way out of responsibility. I mean, given how huge, influential, and successful Chrysler once was, how else can you explain its decline except as a broad-based failure by company leaders to respond to changes in the marketplace? And if the answer is somehow that they were caught by unexpected changes in international trade, then the same accusation lands on the doorsteps of politicans: How could they not have responded sooner and more effectively to protect American jobs?

More importantly, why should anyone believe it’s going to be better now? These are dicey times and everyone needs all the encouragement he or she can scrape up. So if you can nudge Chrysler back into the running, good on you. But I must say it looks like a very difficult trick, considering the lead American carmakers once had…and lost.

Have you ever owned a Chrysler, btw? I have not. Had some great Chevrolets, including a white-over-gold Biscayne with three-on-the-tree standard shifting, an eight-track, and green shag in the back window. Oh yeah, you’re jealous! Knew you would be. Call when you can, and we’ll talk cars.



Find more of the Foreman Letters here.

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