- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Sporting a black jacket with a Ford Mustang logo, Randy Hatman stands mesmerized. The 57-year-old Germantown car enthusiast pauses to admire the shiny red 2006 GT parked on a pedestal by the entrance to the Washington Auto Show.

Mr. Hatman, who drives a 2003 Ford Cobra, was one of many Ford fans who weren’t fazed by the No. 2 American automaker’s announcement Monday that it will close 14 plants in North America and cut as many as 30,000 jobs over the next six years.

“I think Ford will come back,” said a confident Mr. Hatman, who works for Amtrak. “The world is in competition. All companies are like that — they got to cut back.”

Ford’s announcement came just months after General Motors Corp., the country’s largest automaker, announced its plan to close a dozen plants and lay off 30,000 workers.

DaimlerChrysler AG joined the restructuring rush yesterday, announcing that it would cut administrative staff by 20 percent worldwide over three years, dropping 6,000 jobs in order to save some $1.2 billion a year.

“It is unfortunate for the workers losing their jobs, for their families. But for the company, it is very positive,” said Laura North, a Ford product specialist.

Like other manufacturers at this week’s auto show at the Washington Convention Center, Ford is showcasing a mix of trucks and fuel-efficient hybrids as well as a slew of high-performance models like the GT.

Ms. North pointed out that the company runs a profitable worldwide division, anchored by the popularity of its Explorer sport utility vehicle.

“But no one says that, do they?” she said, adding that American consumers should buy from U.S. automakers.

“We’re at war,” she said. “Let’s show a little patriotism.”

District resident Ren Sauters shook her head as she inspected the backseat of a 2006 Chevrolet Envoy Denali.

“It’s not the same,” said Mrs. Sauters, 47, of the U.S. auto industry. “I hope they get back in the game.”

Mrs. Sauters, an Amtrak employee and union member, said Ford and GM were too hasty to cut so many jobs.

“I generally blame the management on those issues,” she said, suggesting that upper-level managers take pay cuts to help out the auto makers. “That could have helped first.”

Robert Kestner of Frederick sympathized with U.S. automakers.

“Our share of the marketplace has shrunk, and so must the work force,” said Mr. Kestner, a 51-year-old Comcast employee.

Mr. Kestner said he always buys American cars.

“Let’s just say I want to see what the competition’s doing these days,” he said from the driver’s seat of a 2006 Honda Element.

But Honda representative Stan Fry rejected the idea that buying a foreign car isn’t buying American.

“This proves it right here,” said Mr. Fry as he pointed to a label on a 2006 Civic that said it was assembled in Lincoln, Ala. Similar stickers on the windshields of other Honda models told visitors what portion of the car was made in the United States.

“Giving the consumer this information takes away some of the negative impressions they might have,” said Mr. Fry, a salesman at Honda of Tysons Corner. “In the old days in the Middle East, the marketplace was called a bazaar. People came from all over. Well, that’s what this is.”

Toyota salesman Saul Ibarra noted that the Japanese automaker plans to open a new plant in San Antonio.

Ford and GM may be shedding jobs, “but they’re being replaced” by foreign manufacturers, Mr. Ibarra said. “There is still work there.”

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