Fear crashes Chrysler minivan birthday party

Mon Nov 3, 2008 8:27pm EST
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By Nick Carey

WINDSOR, Ontario (Reuters) - No. 3 U.S. automaker Chrysler LLC threw a birthday party here on Monday for the minivan it invented 25 years ago, but fear that a possible merger with General Motors Corp may cost workers their jobs overshadowed the event.

"We don't know if we'll have a job next week," said Peter Abwander, who was standing with hundreds of workers waiting on the factory floor for Chrysler to unveil its 25th anniversary editions of its Dodge Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country minivan models. "The company says we're safer than other plants because of what we make."

"But you never know," added Abwander, who has spent 34 years as a driver here. "We just have to pray and hang on."

Chrysler invented the family-hauling minivan in the 1980s and still counts it as the only segment it dominates. Chrysler controls some 40 percent of the U.S. minivan market and has sold 12 million of them since 1983.

But the No. 3 U.S. automaker -- bought last year by private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management LP from Daimler AG -- has been hit hard by a weakening U.S. economy and tightening credit conditions that make it harder for consumers to obtain auto loans.

Chrysler's sales this year through to the end of October were down 26 percent.

Through October, sales of the top-selling minivans in the U.S. market were also down sharply from a year earlier. Chrysler's two minivan models, plus those of Honda Motor Co and Toyota Motor Corp make up more than 80 percent of the total sales in the U.S. market.

Chrysler Town & Country sales fell nearly 8 percent through October and the Dodge Caravan dropped almost 22 percent.   Continued...

<p>The Chrysler logo is seen on the back of a 300C during the Chicago Auto Show in this February 6, 2008 file photo. REUTERS/John Gress</p>