Feds' auto plan draws criticism

As the details of the federal government's plan to revive American automakers filtered out Monday, Kentuckians in the industry seemed to collectively shake their heads.

"I hate the fact that the government is going to be more closely involved," said Jack Kain, past chairman of the National Automobile Dealers Association. "I feel like there are a lot of smart people in the car industry and financial industry that can get this thing resolved."

William Parsons Jr., who organizes the annual Global Automotive Conference in Kentucky, said he was "stunned" by the government's demand that General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner step down.

"He's a true automotive visionary and leader," Parsons said. "The government indicating that their plans didn't go far enough is one thing, but to actually force out a real car guy, I think, is most unfortunate."

All said the same thing: Nothing will work long-term until people again buy cars.

"They're going to have to come back with some stronger incentive deals, cash-for-clunkers deals," said Kain, who is a dealer for Ford. Ford has not requested government loans.

"Unless people are buying cars ... no one will succeed," he said. "That's a fact."

In Bowling Green, the General Motors plant, which produces Corvettes, is idling its line for two weeks each in April, May and June in anticipation of lower sales, said Eldon Renaud, president of the United Auto Workers Local 2164 in Bowling Green.

Renaud said the workers at the plant wonder why the federal government is demanding such restrictions on the money.

"They gave $700 billion to banks, and they don't even know where it went," he said. "But now they're looking at us ... and there are all these things they're trying to take away."

Parsons said he wishes the Obama administration would follow the lead of the German government, which is offering 2,500 Euros to anyone who is purchasing a vehicle.

"That's over and above any incentive that a car manufacturer or dealer might offer," he said. "That's powerful."

Specifically looking at Kentucky, Kain said the state is probably in better shape than others since its only other vehicle plants are Toyota's in Georgetown and two Ford plants in Louisville.

A Toyota spokesman reiterated the company's long-held stance on Monday that "the well-being of the U.S. auto industry is essential to the recovery of the economy and the entire global auto industry."

"Broadly speaking, we support measures to help ensure the viability of the industry — including automakers, suppliers and dealers — and to restore consumer confidence in the overall economy."