A consumer group has complained to the Justice Department about a meeting between officials of General Motors and Chrysler Corp. that may have violated federal antitrust laws.
The Center for Auto Safety, in a letter to Attorney General Griffin Bell, contended the meeting violated a 10-year-old, recently renewed consent decree under which the four major U.S. automakers agreed not to share information concerning research and development of emissions control equipment.
In fact, it was only last week that the Justice Department renewed the consent decree for another 10 years.
But in its letter to Bell, the center warned that "having lost their direct judicial assault on the consent decree, the auto industry is presently trying an end run around it."
The center included a copy of a Feb. 26 letter from General Motors Vice President Alex C. Mair to Chrysler Vice President of Engineering Sidney Jaffe outlining a 10-point plan under which GM would provide "limited technical assistance" in an effort to help Chrysler meet "increasingly stringent government (emmission and safety) standards."
Mair referred to an earlier meeting between representatives of the two companies to talk about the possibilities of cooperation.
But at the end of the letter, Mair wrote: "Accordingly, this agreement shall become effective at such date as Chrysler has obtained written consent from the United States Department of Justice for Chrysler and GM to enter into this agreement."
A spokesman for the Antitrust Division of the Justice Department said his agency "had been made aware of the letter and the proposed agreement" by the automakers, but did not think the government knew about the meeting in advance.
"But we have no reason to believe any restricted information was exchanged at that meeting," he added.
Center for Auto Safety Director Clarence Ditlow was not satisfied by the Justice Department response, however, warning that the meeting was "just the evil consent decree was designed to prevent," especially if restricted information on emmission control was discussed.