Automaker rallies support for Fed bailout

COVINGTON - A Ford Motor Company official visited the Guardian Autoglass plant in Covington on Friday to rally support for the proposed bailout of the domestic automobile industry that is being considered by Congress.

Ray Parrish, regional sales manager for Ford, came to Guardian to highlight the impact the auto industry has locally. Guardian's Covington plant manufactures exterior trim parts for Ford and other automakers and employs 322 people.

Parrish was joined by state Sen. John Douglas, R-Social Circle, and Ronnie Chance, R-Tyrone, along with Guardian officials.

Parrish said the federal bailout, something he said is better referred to as bridge loans, is needed and is in the best interest of the economy as a whole. He said if the domestic automakers are allowed to fail, something the auto executives said is a possibility if Congress does not approve the bailout package, that it would have a ripple effect on other companies like Guardian.

Executives with Ford, Chrysler and General Motors testified in Congress for the second time this week seeking $34 billion in federal aid. The aid would come in the form of loans from the federal government.

General Motors is asking for $18 billion in relief, while Chrysler is asking for $7 billion.

Parrish said that Ford is in better shape than the other two companies and is requesting access to a $9 billion line of credit to use as a safety net. Ford began a restructuring effort two years ago, and Parrish said the company is confident its new line of vehicles will appeal to car buyers and meet government demands to be better-built with better fuel efficiency.

"There's a mindset out there that the domestics can't compete," Parrish said, "and when you watch the testimony. there's a lot of that feeling that they are not prepared to compete. I want to tell you, we're competing today."

Douglas voiced his support for government help for the automakers because of that impact to Newton County. He noted the local economy had been booming thanks to a strong new housing market, until the subprime mortgage meltdown put the local economy at a standstill.

"If the big three went away, I think it would be worse, because I am convinced we're teetering on the edge between a very serious recession and actually depression," Douglas said. "One day it looks like we're going to be OK, then another day the stock market whipsaws a thousand points."

Parrish said labor costs will be a major component to any viability plan. "You see a lot of good, hard work with the unions to structure contracts moving forward to help the domestics," he said.

Asked what foreign auto makers are doing right and what the domestics have done wrong, Parrish said the recent developments were primarily driven by retail fuel prices.

"What happened in the industry earlier this year was, when the fuel prices spiked, those segments where the imports are strong grew and the business migrated just all by itself. Now, what you are seeing is that as fuel prices drop, those segments are shrinking."

As the falling fuel prices are helping the domestics in the short term, Parrish said all three automakers will have to plan for the long term by focusing on hybrid cars and higher fuel efficiency more than ever because of the volatility in fuel prices.

Jay Jones can be reached at jay.jones@rockdalecitizen.com.