Analysts and commentators on the national talk shows are missing a key element of the automotive bailout story, say Chrysler LLC dealers in a conference call with reporters held at the National Automobile Dealers Assn.’s office in McLean, VA, this week.

Chuck Eddy, of Chuck Eddy Chrysler Dodge Jeep in Austintown, OH, along with Chrysler’s other NADA representative, says it surprises him that he hasn’t “heard anybody talk about what goes on at the local level, the car dealerships – what we do for our communities and for our employees.”

Joining Eddy were the co-chairmen of Chrysler’s National Dealer Council, Hayden Elder of Elder Chrysler Dodge Jeep in Athens, TX, and Jim Arrigo of Arrigo Dodge Chrysler Jeep in West Palm Beach, FL.

The three are leading a group of more than 30 Chrysler dealers in Washington this week to lobby Congress in support of proposed legislation calling for a federal bridge loan to help the auto makers survive the country’s current credit crisis.

The U.S. Congress is debating whether to provide a $25 billion rescue plan to General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler.

“We want to meet with our congressional folks and senators to get this bridge loan put together,” Eddy says. “It’s a huge impact at the local level.”

Says Elder: “This (loan) will affect roughly 140,000 employees of our dealerships. We are here to rally support and let our congressmen know it is imperative we get this done and how vital it is to the health and well-being of the Chrysler dealer body.”

The 3,372 Chrysler-brand dealers generated $105 billion in revenue in 2007 and spent $575 million on advertising. This year, alone, Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge dealers spent $132 million refurbishing their facilities. They employ 140,000 people in their local communities.

“If the local auto dealer is lost in the marketplace, it ripples down,” Eddy says. “It impacts the people that clean our facilities to the people that cut the grass to the people we buy tires from to the TV and newspaper spots we buy.”

Without strong auto makers, there are no dealers. “The auto industry makes the world go round, and General Motors, Ford and Chrysler have been a big part of why this country has been successful over the years,” Eddy says, responding to arguments that the Detroit Three should declare bankruptcy.

“It’s not fair to hammer them right now, we need to be supportive,” he says. “This is not bailout, it’s a bridge loan that helps with capitalization of the Big Three – bridging them until the market starts to pick up.”

The biggest problem is the inability to get financing for would-be customers, say dealers.

“I don’t really know how we got to where we got, but we hit a wall in June, and it was the banking industry, it seized up,” Eddy says. “It created a problem for the OEMs, and that trickled right down to us.

Eddy says Chrysler’s lending arm, Chrysler Financial, continues to lose its ability to loan money while many consumers still want to buy cars.

“They’ll pay a little bit of interest – but it’s seized up so tight we don’t have the ability to do that,” he says. “We don’t have time to wait. It’s unfair to say for (OEMs) to just file Chapter 11 and let them reorganize. While that’s going on, what do we do at the local level?”

If the domestic auto makers don’t get this bridge loan and provide help to their captive finance companies, “the fallout will be horrendous,” Elder warns.

Although the industry has gone through downturns before, including 22% interest rates, double-digit inflation and unemployment, customers still could get financing.

“We may not have liked the rates, but we were still able to get financing, and our manufacturer and our lending arms helped us,” Arrigo says. “We’ve got to get through this. There’s a lot at stake. It’s very critical that (government) do what (it) needs to do, so we can get the financial liquidity back in Chrysler Financial.”

Arrigo has been running dealerships for more than 20 years and says this is “by far is the worst situation I’ve seen in the car business in my entire life.

“This bridge loan will help the manufacturers with their fixed costs and continue helping them get through this tremendous downturn in our industry. This is also about car dealers and our suppliers across the country. We pay property tax and income tax.

“I have 350 associates and this means as much to them as it does to me,” Arrigo adds. “It’s very important to understand that without this money to help (the auto makers) keep on producing cars that I can sell in my community, I’ve got to close my doors.”

dstark@wardsauto.com