Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Obama and Biden Go to Kokomo
Plus - an update on the Tipton transmission plant

It must be Take Your Vice President to Work Day. It's slightly after noon, and as I write this, President Obama and Vice President Biden are likely on their way to a rare joint appearance at a Chrysler Transmission plant in Kokomo, Indiana. Sharing the bill with them will be Chrysler Group CEO, Sergio Marchionne and UAW President, Bob King. They are basically taking a victory tour of Chrysler post-bailout. While Chrysler is not completely out of the woods, I've got to say that I'm amazed at how smoothly Chrysler's revamping of its existing product lines has gone so far. I guess that goes to show just what you can do when you actually pay your suppliers.

Even though Kokomo has no final assembly plants, Kokomo might be the more economically dependent on Chrysler than any other town in the country. Chrysler employs 4,500 workers in this city of 48,000. There is no question that the auto bailout saved the city from economic ruin.

The President is on hand for the expected announcement of roughly $1 billion in upgrades to the existing Kokomo transmission facilities. The Kokomo plants are expected to be reconfigured to produce an advanced automatic transmission for front-wheel-drive vehicles. The current product line focuses on trucks and rear-wheel-drive cars. A few years ago, old-Chrysler partnered with German firm Getrag to build a brand new plant in nearby Tipton, Indiana to produce advanced dual-clutch automatic transmissions. If things had gone as planned, those transmissions would be in Chrysler vehicles today. With the help of government incentives, the plant was completed, at least externally, but no production equipment was installed. There was an ongoing dispute between Chrysler and Getrag regarding who was supposed to pay for the equipment. From the perspective of this outsider anyway, it appears that neither Chrysler nor Getrag wanted a partner, they were both looking for a sugar daddy. By 2008 both companies had backed out of the deal, each throwing stones at the other. Within months, both companies would be bankrupt. At last report, the Tipton factory was sitting vacant, owned by a constellation of unpaid contractors. There was pending deal to sell the facility to Abound Solar, for the purposes of making solar panels. This deal was on hold as of November 19, 2010 due to a slight problem, no money had shown up.

Anyway, what a treat to have both the President and Vice President come to your plant on a work day. There are some who will say it's risky having both the President and the Vice President making a joint appearance. I can't say that I didn't think of the risk. Then I realized, out of the finite universe of individuals who would wish harm on the President and Vice President and try to carry it out, how many of them do you think would actually prefer Nancy Pelosi?

Sing us out, Kermit.

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