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Auto Workers Warily Welcome Merger

May 7, 1998

DETROIT (AP) _ Rumors of a Chrysler Corp. merger with Daimler-Benz raced through the Motor City, from assembly plants where word first leaked to hangouts where the locals mulled the idea of a global partnership.

Many seemed unperturbed that the company that championed ``Buy American″ could be mixing a little sauerkraut into its meat-and-potatoes image.

``We’re bringing the two sides together, you know? They can learn from us and we can learn from them,″ Angela Charley said as she left her shift Wednesday afternoon at Chrysler’s Jefferson North assembly plant, where she builds Jeeps.

Ms. Charley said plant workers heard the first rumors about the merger Wednesday, the same day that the German automaker and Chrysler, which once staved off bankruptcy with a government bailout, confirmed they were negotiating.

The rumors also reached Mike Davis, an investment banker who works down the street from the automaker that once built the World War II-era Sherman tank.

``I think it’s positive. It’s what they need to do to stay competitive in a global market,″ he said. ``Daimler-Benz is extremely strong in areas where Chrysler is not.″

Still, Davis said his commitment to American vehicles won’t change.

``My dad’s worked at Chrysler since 1962,″ said Davis, who drives a Jeep Grand Cherokee.

Former Chrysler Chairman Lee Iacocca led the charge to ``buy American″ in the 1980s, when 25 percent of the U.S. market was controlled by Japan.

In one 1990 television commercial, Iacocca looked sternly at his board members and reminded them that America’s cars are just as good as Japan’s. ``Nobody knows it, and that’s going to change,″ Iacocca says in the TV spot.

With U.S. automakers earning record profits, that mood has cooled somewhat. Still, a trip to Detroit’s Belle Isle Park, where people still cruise in their cars on warm nights, confirmed Detroit’s love affair with the Big Three. Only two Mercedes-Benzes wove through crowds of Jeeps, Buicks and Cadillacs.

``Anything that helps Detroit, I’m all for, because the decline in the auto industry has really hurt Detroit,″ said Ulysses Allen, driver of a Jeep Grand Cherokee. ``I’m looking forward to seeing the Big Three get on their feet.″

Henrietta Davis, who was picnicking with her family in the park, said she hoped the plan would help Chrysler but was skeptical.

``It’s going to mean the loss of jobs,″ said Mrs. Davis, who works as a sales representative in Detroit and drives an Oldsmobile Cutlass. ``A merger means that people who are lower on the totem pole will lose their jobs.″

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