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GM, Chrysler say dealer cuts vital to survival

Some lawmakers contend hundreds of profitable dealerships received little warning of the closings.

Presidential adviser Ron Bloom testifies on auto restructuring before a House panel on Capitol Hill.

AP Photo

WASHINGTON — General Motors and Chrysler defended their plans Wednesday to eliminate about 3,000 dealerships, calling it a vital piece of their strategy to rebound from government-led bankruptcies.

“This is a painful process that spares no particular group,” Michael Robinson, General Motors Co.’s vice president and general counsel, said to critics in Congress.

Chrysler warned that a House-approved plan to reinstate dealers shuttered by the bankruptcies threatened their new partnership with Italian automaker Fiat Group SpA.

Louann Van Der Wiele, Chrysler’s vice president, said the restoration of nearly 800 shuttered dealers would “simply take Chrysler back to the future that (the old company) faced not long ago, without the option of a purchaser for substantially all of its assets. Complete liquidation, with all of its dire consequences, could follow.”

In the second day of hearings, lawyers for GM and Chrysler said the dealership closings were among the traumatic but necessary concessions from unions, bondholders and retirees needed in the swift bankruptcies. The only alternative, they said, was liquidation and massive job losses.

But lawmakers said hundreds of profitable dealerships received little warning of the closings, accusing the companies of turning their back on dealers and the communities they serve after receiving billions in federal aid.

Several auto dealers told the panel how the auto industry decisions were wrecking their lives. Auto dealers estimate that nearly 200,000 jobs could be lost in the dealer consolidation.

“If my dealership is not restored, we will lose everything — including college savings for my children — and my home,” said Jim Tarbox, a former Chrysler dealer from North Kingstown, R.I.

The House approved a measure last week that would force GM and Chrysler to restore the dealers expected to be shuttered by late 2010. The Senate has not yet considered the plan.

Area dealers affected include Hasay Chevrolet in Shickshinny, Pompey Dodge in Kingston and MotorWorld in Plains Township, which stands to lose its Buick, Cadillac and GMC truck lines.

Ron Bloom, the leader of the Obama administration’s auto task force, urged a Judiciary Committee panel on Tuesday not to meddle in the dealer closings. Bloom said the plan would set a “dangerous precedent” and could jeopardize taxpayer recovery of billions in aid.

Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., urged auto company lawyers to find ways to provide a “cushion” to dealers, accident victims and others who have opposed the bankruptcy provisions. “We’re trying to save a noble and important industry but what we’re also trying to do is to create as much cushion as we can.”

People who have sued the car companies in auto accident cases have objected to bankruptcy plans that would free the new auto companies from liability for people injured by a defective vehicle prior to the bankruptcy filings.

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