BALTIMORE, Dec 2 (Reuters) - The great-grandson of the man who founded the car-maker Chrysler in 1924 on Tuesday added his voice to the campaign to save the company, noting it also built 22,000 tanks in World War Two and rockets that put the first American on the moon.
“I want to see them survive. I know they’ve made mistakes, but I don’t want to see our American companies go away,” Frank Rhodes said after an event staged by Chrysler to rally support for a federal bailout of the beleaguered U.S. auto industry.
Chrysler LLC, now controlled by Cerberus Capital Management [CBS.UL], General Motors (GM.N) and Ford (F.N) were to submit financial plans to Congress on Tuesday to back requests for a combined $25 billion in aid after a recession and credit squeeze hammered car sales.
Rhodes, a 50-year old furniture maker, hurriedly drove from his home on Maryland’s Eastern shore after learning early on Tuesday about the rally at the Port of Baltimore “I didn’t even have time to put on a coat and tie,” he told Reuters.
But he did bring along a big, blue flag autographed in the 1970s by the Chrysler engineers and scientists who helped design and build the boosters powering the Apollo mission that carried the first U.S. astronaut to the moon.
Rhodes unfurled the flag and held it proudly before 50 longshoremen and Chrysler sympathizers at a rally at which Chrysler President Jim Press hammered home the urgent need for a bridge loan from the federal government.
Workers at a now-defunct Chrysler plant in Cocoa Beach, Florida had given Rhodes the flag to put in a museum he operates at Walter Chrysler’s boyhood home in Ellis, Kansas.
Chrysler and the other automakers played a key role in producing bullets, shells and casings for U.S. troops during World War Two, Rhodes said. “They’ve done a lot of great things for this country, and we can’t afford to lose our manufacturing base.”
Rhodes, the archivist of the small remaining Chrysler family, said he has written letters to top officials at the company, Cerberus, all 535 members of Congress and to Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke in support of Chrysler.
“Failure is not an option,” Rhodes said, who said he had no financial interest in the company’s fate.
Chrysler Chief Executive Bob Nardelli and his counterparts at GM and Ford are due to testify before lawmakers in Washington this week, but Chrysler officials are fanning out around the country to underscore the importance of the auto industry to the overall U.S. economy.
Tuesday’s Chrysler rally was staged at a facility at the Port of Baltimore run by AMPORTS, which handles about 130,000 vehicles exported by Chrysler through the port each year.
Steven Rand, president of AMPORTS, said he employed about 400 full-time workers and hundreds of temporary workers at the port and about half of the jobs were tied to Chrysler’s fate.
U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Democrat who grew up in Baltimore, said he backed aid to automakers if accompanied by strict conditions.
“We cannot allow our automobile industry to fail,” Cummings said, sparking a standing ovation. (Editing by David Storey)