Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

June 16, 2009


Washington Post - Many jilted dealers have described it more as a crash landing. After all, they still remember the Call.

It came on Thursday, Feb. 5. Thousands of Chrysler dealers across the country dialed in to hear another in a string of pitches from [deputy chief executive Jim] Press and Steven Landry, Chrysler's executive vice president.

With the passion of a street preacher, Press implored the dealers to order as many cars as possible to help the company as a deadline loomed to prove its viability to the U.S. government.

"You have two choices," Press told the group, according to reports. "You can either help us or burn us all down."

Many dealers would long remember the warning that followed to those who refused to order their whole allotment of cars: "If you decide not to do that, we've got a good memory."

"Our jaws dropped," said Alan Spitzer, who appeared before Congress on and until last week owned eight Chrysler-brand franchises in Ohio. "It was clearly a threat. There was no other way to take it."

Chrysler officials dispute that view, saying executives were simply working to save the company and had no plans to go into bankruptcy at the time.

But the Call has become part symbol, part rallying cry for the hundreds of Chrysler dealers who say they have endured a litany of indignities at the hands of the struggling automaker. Referenced by dealers in numerous interviews and during Chrysler's recent bankruptcy proceedings, it offers a window into the carmaker's increasingly frantic final months, as it sought to bolster its bottom line by pressuring dealers to buy more inventory, even as their showrooms overflowed with cars they couldn't sell.

More important, it highlights how the best-laid plans of government -- a quick, "surgical" bankruptcy of an American company -- can unfold slowly and messily on the ground.


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