Although nobody says it is going to be easy for financially troubled Chrysler Corp. to get back on its feet -- even with the newly voted congressional bailout package of $3.5 billion -- there already are signs that the company will have a running start on the road back.
"I hope it's not a flash in the pan, but our absenteeism is down, and down measurably all over the place," Chrysler Cairman Lee Iacocca said in interviews and at a press conference here Sunday. "People are getting to work on time, people are working harder, and that's the key to productivity.
"When you are getting the hell scared out of you, you seem to pull together more," he said.
At the same time, there has been a dramatic improvement in the quality of Chrysler's work product, Iacocca said.
"We have improved our repairs per hundred (the traditional industry barometer of quality control) by 32 percent in the last nine months," he said. "And our warrantly policy costs are also coming down."
In order for Chrysler to be a profitable company, it will have to capture and maintain 10 percent of the U.S. market, Iacocca said. During the first 10 days of December, the company's share rose to 9.9 percent from the 8.7 percent share it had during November. That increase came despite widespread public concern over whether the company would be saved, and be around long enough to service the cars it sells.
And Iacocca said that because of those concerns, the company has stockpiled a 90-day to 100 supply of its popular gas savers: the imported Dodge Colt and Plymouth Champ, and the domestically produced Dodge Omni and Plymouth Horizon. Quick sale of those cars could give Chrysler some of the cash flow it needs to get it through the next 60 days, the time Iacoeca estimates will be needed to put the bailout package together. t
The sacrifice that will have to be made by Chrysler employes will likely come not only from salary and health benefit plans but from a reduction in paid "personal days off" and other areas, instead. Besides vacation and holidays, Crysler workers now are shceduled to get 20 such paid personal days of over the next three years. General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. workers will get 26.
"There are a number of areas that I think . . . will be more palatale to the rank and file than other areas," Iacocca said, including the paid personal days amoung the more likely to be cut when the union leaders meet to assess the situation in about a week.
He said he hopes the worst has passed in terms of cutbacks, layoffs and the loss of employes to other companies.
Chrysler has cut 8,500 white collar jobs during the past year, and more than 30,000 union workers are now on indefinite layoff.
Iacocca also said the company lost about 300 dealers during the past year, leaving it with a network of 4,500 sales outlets. "For November, we lost 49 dealers and we got six . . . six new guys signed, believe it or not, in the midst of all this," he said.
But "you gotta remember, boys, we came through this fairly well intact," he stressed. "We haven't missed a payroll yet. We haven't held back on a supplier payment. We pay our dealers on time. The organization comes out of this intact."
"So I think we're readly to move, because I don't think we 've been damaged structurally in any way," he said.
Iacocca said he is confident that Chrysler can move quickly toward this goal of making it a "first class, front-wheel-drive" automaker.
"We have all the ingredients for success," he said.
"We have the management team in place. We have a dedicated work force. We have a good bill. We have the good will of the American people. But most of all, we have the product.
"Right now, GM and Ford don't have any subcompact front-wheel-drive, four wheel independent suspension, 25- 30-mile-per-gallon cars," Iacocca said.
"You don't win this battle in Congress," Iacocca said of the bailout. "Ultimately you win it the marketplace, and that is where we are right now."