Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Dealership closure decisions prompt Congressional investigation

The extraordinarily complex undertaking that is the restructuring of the U.S. automobile industry was in full view today when a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee opened hearings on dealership shutdowns negotiated by General Motors, Chrysler and the Obama administration. At issue is both the thinking behind the decisions to close more than 3,000 dealerships and a pending bill that could reverse all or many of those decisions, according to Cable News Network (CNN). The head of the administration's Task Force for the Auto Industry, Ron Bloom, a former investment banker, testified today that the closures were critical to the restructuring effort, CNN said. But some members of the subcommittee have objected to some of the individual shutdowns and raised the specter of unfairness or worse. "They had a criteria, but I don't know what their criteria was, what the data was," said Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tennessee), according to CNN. "Some were profitable, and there's even concern that there might even be others open in areas where they closed them." Given the unfortunate tendency of Washington politicians to speak in semitruths, it is difficult to tell whether the Congressional concerns are legitimate or just part of seemingly relentless Republican Party efforts to discredit the administration. Indeed, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), said his concerns included some of the closures but went beyond them to the future of the U.S. economic system. "Every day, I guess I get a little more concerned about what the administration is doing in regard to the GM and Chrysler bankruptcies," he said. "It seems to me that literally the administration is declaring war on capitalism." Rep. Dan Maffei (D-New York), who authored the bill, said he was concerned about the owners of the dealerships that were ordered to close. "It's really an issue of fairness and whether these dealers, given that they've got these big taxpayer-paid-for bailouts for GM and Chrysler, whether the dealers who employ 50 people each on average and are big parts of local communities, shouldn't have some sort of say over how these dealer networks are going to be reorganized," Mattei said, according to CNN. "We felt it was not fair for these dealers, given that the bankruptcy was negotiated in part by the federal government and with federal money, that the dealers would have to not be able to have their rights." Not all dealerships forced to close were left with nothing, CNN said. GM offered its franchises up to $1 million in closing payments and gave them over a year to sell their inventories. GM also reversed dozens of closing decisions after dealers appealed to the company. But Chrysler didn't offer any payments, forced dealerships to shut down within three weeks and had no appeal process.

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