The Chrysler Corp. annual meeting here yesterday was unusually well-attended, more raucous than normal, and ended the way most earlier ones did: with management taking abuse with a grimace and victory with relief.
The dedicated regular corporate gadflies who usually deliver grief to the presiding corporate officers did not attend. Yesterday the opprobrium heaped on Chrysler's chairman, president and others in top management came from roughly 800 shareholders, most of whom were middle-level retirees and present employes. The habitual gadflies presumably spent their ire at Kennecott Corps annual meeting.
The only real issue at the nearly five-hour meeting was whether the required bare majority of all outstanding shares would support authorizing up to 60 million additional shares of common and up to 20 million new shares of preferred stock. Of an outstanding 60.3 million shares, 54.3 percent were voted for and 8.6 percent against.
Management waged a strong campaign on the issue, even paying an outside firm $15,000 to contact share-holders. Some 23 percent of the company's common stock is held in brokerage firm names, and 10 percent is owned outside the United States.
Chairman John Riccardo argued that, to prosper, the third-largest domestic car maker must use "balanced financing - both equity and debt" - to undertake a necessary $7.5 billion, five-year new product capital spending program.
Typical of the jeers from shareholders, fully one-third to one-half of whom were hostile to some degree, was the demand from one who asked Riccardo, "Who the hell are you going to sell this Chrysler stock to?" since stockbrokers are actively warning against it.
Another shareholder said flatly: "The best thing you can do for Chrysler is resign." At one point, Riccardo said, "We believe we know how to run this company" and was answered by scattered boos from around the Chrysler Trainning Center auditorum.
Proposals to limit existing bonus plans were opposed by management and defeated by 75 percent to 80 percent of the voting shares. Opponents of the proposed board of directors and chosen audit firm lost by an even wider margin.
Later, Chrysler directors surprised Wall Street analysts by voting to maintain the company's 25 cent-a-share dividend. Analysts had predicated the dividend would be cut to 10 cents or 15 cents.
The 25-cent dividend means Chrysler will have to pay out some $15 million on June 10 to shareholders of record May 15.
Company executives have said the 25-cent level, set in the second quarter of 1977, deliberately was set lower than necessary to avoid having to slash the dividend in lean times. It was 15 cents before then.
Chrysler President Eugene Cafiero said "we will create a new Chrysler Corp. - more efficient, more competitive and more productive." The company is ending production of its 440-and 400-cubic-inch V-8 engines this summer and expects that in six years 60 percent of the new cars will be powered by four-cylinder engines, he said.
The company's new downsized large cars which will be introduced this fall will weigh 750 pounds less and "still provide ample room for six adults," Cafiero said.
Riccardo said Chrysler's thick spate of safety recalls last fall was not particularly disturbing because before those recalls, the company had been "so much better than Ford and Generals Motors .. . we were a little frightened.