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USA - Local auto workers optimistic about plans

Local officials in the automotive industry are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. General Motors Corp. and Chrysler, LLC announced a need for a total of $39 billion in federal loans Tuesday, according to the Associated Press. The two companies have received more than $17 billion already, but more than doubled the total in the required restructuring plans. The total may have come as a shock to some, but local officials said the money might be the only way for the companies to grow. “I think the companies will be leaner and stronger,” United Auto Workers member Scott Zuckschwerdt said. “I'm seeing an opportunity now for GM and (Chrysler) to grow.”

Zuckschwerdt, of Owosso, owns Flint Tool and Die - a company that makes die casts for GM parts. He said his company may have to stop working on some products, but will start work soon on new GM products such as for the 2010 Chevrolet Cruze. As part of the restructuring plans announced Tuesday, GM and Chrysler plan to cut thousands of jobs, eliminate models such as the PT Cruiser and Hummer brands, and detail prospects of expense cuts. The loss of so many jobs did not weigh easy on Zuckschwerdt, but said GM and Chrysler need to slim down to become stable and have a positive future. “There's a great chance (the automakers) can be successful in the long term,” Zuckschwerdt said. “We just need a cushion to get everything in place.” Jim Slingerland, of Slingerland Chrysler Dodge in Owosso, said he was sad to hear about the job cuts, but agreed the changes might be necessary. “I think basically Chrysler has made some major steps in restructuring,” he said. “We're seeing the tail end of an 18-month program to make Chrysler a smaller company, but more viable and flexible because of the size.” Slingerland said the changes will be difficult.

“On the downside of all of this, you surely do not like to see plant closings,” he said. “But when you're trying to downsize there is an adjustment period. ... I think the company has to remain viable and profitable first.” Slingerland said the dealership has already started to see changes with model cuts such as the Dodge Durango, Chrysler Aspen and PT Cruiser. He did not view the cuts as negative, but a needed change to discontinue lines to make room for more efficient vehicles in the future. “If gas prices go back up again, we'll be prepared,” he said, referring to the prospect of several fuel-efficient vehicles coming to the dealership in the near future. “Business has been going along pretty good for a few months now. We're selling cars all across the complete spectrum. Not any one (price, make or model) is seeing more activity than the other, which is kind of unusual, but good.” Henry Burmer, owner of Symmetrical Technologies in Owosso - also known as Owosso Tool and Die - said the restructuring plans were positive because it meant the last request to the government to keep the companies stable. The company formerly did extensive die casting for auto parts, Burmer said, but backed out because it had difficulties making a profit. “I'm encouraged by what's going on lately,” he said. “It's good to see they're finally doing something about the problems. At least somebody is doing something instead of looking the other way.” Burmer said he sees a positive future for the auto industry if the federal government approves the requests. “But it might be a long time before they get anything going,” he said. “The little guy might be hurting right now, but the big guy is hurting too.”

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