Kicked Off the Rope Line?

The American Association for Justice and consumer advocates are planning a full court press at today’s hearing before the full House Judiciary Committee on the Chrysler bankruptcy proposal. The groups are fighting to change one of the more egregious provisions. Under the terms that the federal government is advocating, the new and improved post-bankruptcy Chrysler would leave all those pesky plaintiffs and vehicle owners seeking compensation for the manufacturers’ defective products in the rear-view mirror. The company would honor warranties and be responsible for recalls, but anyone injured before the bankruptcy would be yanked out of the line of debtors.

It’s easy to see why the automaker, which filed for bankruptcy protection on April 30th, wants to shuck off its considerable liabilities. It’s much harder to fathom how screwing its current customers will help Chrysler going forward. The automaker’s reputation for reliability and safety is already comfortably nestled at the bottom. Chrysler products earned the lowest marks of the Big Three in Consumer Reports 2008 Car Reliability Survey. (The Sebring Convertible earned the worst score: 283 percent worse than average.)  Not one Chrysler product made it on to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s Top Safety Pick list for 2008. Its bad marriages to Daimler Benz, then the investment firm, Cerberus Capital Management, which picked up the company at fire sale prices, haven’t made things better. Its latest suitor, Fiat, is no paragon of engineering excellence. (A recent Consumer Reports blog post noted that a British consumer magazine rated Fiats 35 out of 38 makes in reliability.)

Would you buy a car from a company that doesn’t stand behind its products? Sigh. And to think that my late father, a dyed-in-the-wool Dodge/Plymouth/Chrysler man once worshipped their slant-six engine. As long as you put oil in that thing – it wouldn’t die.