AUBURN HILLS, MI – Once results of today’s mid-term elections reveal the political landscape for the coming years,Group’s top executive hopes to “get some answers” regarding the Bush Admin.’s attitude toward Detroit’s auto makers.
President Bush has promised to meet this month with Tom LaSorda and his cross-town colleagues fromCorp. and Motor Co., after canceling several scheduled meetings since first agreeing to sit down with the auto makers in May.
Media reports indicate the meeting will take place next week, but aspokesman says there is no firm date.
There are three key items on the three auto makers’ agenda: the skyrocketing cost of employee health care, a national energy policy and foreign currency manipulation.
Detroit auto makers repeatedly have said they are not seeking a government bailout but rather want to open dialogue on issues of concern.
Chairman Bill Ford has for years been saying health care is a national issue, not something that can be resolved in the boardrooms or bargaining tables of the auto industry.
And Ron Gettelfinger, president of the United Auto Workers union, long has been calling on the White House to revamp the nation’s trade policy, which he claims favors foreign auto makers over those headquartered in Detroit.
“My hope would be that when we go and talk we’ll maybe get some answers,” LaSorda tells Ward’s in a wide-ranging interview here at Chrysler headquarters.
And if there is no starting point for discussion, he hopes the president will “just be straight,” because “we are prepared to do some things.”
Reeling from the effects of volatile gasoline prices that have slowed sales of trucks and SUVs, Chrysler is pursuing labor-cost relief from the UAW, which earlier in the year gave in to similar demands from GM and Ford.
Dialogue between the two sides is ongoing, but no formal negotiations are set, LaSorda says, adding he has one matter of business in Washington that is unique from his counterparts.
“First of all, I’d want to tell the president that I’m an American now,” says LaSorda, who was born and educated in Canada. He became a naturalized U.S. citizen earlier this year. But by virtue of a reciprocal agreement between the two countries, he did not have to forfeit his Canadian citizenship.
Meanwhile, LaSorda says Chrysler’s latest cash crunch will not derail product-development plans, such as the auto maker’s hybrid-powertrain scheme.
“We have to keep that going,” he says. “You can’t take a short-term financial hit and change your overall powertrain strategy.”
Chrysler’s third-quarter loss of nearly $1.5 billion, which snapped a string of profitable quarters, prompted deep cuts to its production schedule.
The auto maker also is intensifying its ongoing cost-cutting initiative, targeting a per-vehicle reduction of $1,000 for every vehicle it builds.