Lawmakers tour plants of troubled 'Big 3' automakers


DETROIT -- Hosted by the financially foundering "Big Three" U.S. automakers and the United Auto Workers, 40 members of Congress listened to grim news and pleas for help as they toured the U.S. auto industry's home base Thursday and yesterday.

Lawmakers said that they were especially dismayed at Chrysler Chairman Lee A. Iacocca's disclosure that the Big Three automakers had probably lost $4.2 billion in their North American auto operations in the first quarter.

"The numbers are frightening in terms of the direction that we are headed," Representative Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., said.

Battered by sluggish sales, an anticipated second straight quarterly loss and stiff foreign competition, the Big Three and its workers have repeatedly over the last few months petitioned the U.S. government for relief.

The trip to Detroit, organized by the Michigan delegation and the Congressional Competitiveness Caucus, was inspired by a belief on the part of the industry and its Washington allies that members of Congress might need a crash course on the industry's importance to the American economy and the seriousness of its malaise to make informed decisions on upcoming legislation.

Eager to shed their reputation for arrogance and extravagance -- stemming from the record profits they made in the second half of the 1980s -- the Big Three tried to keep the tenor of the trip in line with its message of austerity.

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