I’m glad Mr. Rosenbusch, of Chrysler Group LLC, found my article on Chrysler archives interesting. It’s always nice to be read. And I’m sure Rosenbusch agreed with the article when I said “America’s automakers have gone to great lengths and expense to preserve and protect the historical documents which chronicle and define their existence.” I’m also reasonably sure that Mr. Rosenbusch doesn’t dispute the fact of the closing of Chrysler’s engineering library. “One of a series of necessary steps to cut costs,” as he puts it. And I’m glad Mr. Rosenbusch saved all of the important documents resulting from that change of fortune. But I stand by my report that people on site experienced a sudden and chaotic end to a resource someone thought was valuable enough to create and fund. That Chrysler has tuned its back on its history.
By his own admission, the remaining documents were “sent to storage”—hardly an easily accessible location for historians. It should also be noted that Chrysler is in the process of, or may have completed, the divesture of the great Walter P. Chrysler museum. While the museum may survive as its own 501(c)(3) corporation, that’s not a certainty.
To protect my sources for the Chrysler archive story, I don’t want to explore the corporate intrigue that lead to my report. However, I’ll say this: it is entirely true that the person who created the archive and laid the foundation for the above-mentioned Walter P. Chrysler museum was forced out of Chrysler by its new owners.
I am sure Mr. Rosenbusch’s bosses in New Chrysler’s Public Relations department are supportive of his current efforts, in as much as they present a positive public face for the company. But I’m equally sure that when it comes to major policy issues, the PR department doesn’t make the big decisions.
In any case, exploring the current status of archives was not the main focus of the article. My focus is on its future. When you think about the future of the Chrysler Group, and the archives, anyone concerned with the protection of source material must consider these three questions:
1. Who owns Chrysler? The UAW is a majority owner, with the governments of the USA and Canada owning significant parts. Do you really think the UAW, or the U.S. government, care about archives? The UAW cares, as they should, about the interests of their members. In a crunch, will the UAW make the choice to fund history over health care and pensions?
2. Who calls the shots when it comes to major strategic decisions at the Chrysler Group? The Golden Rule applies here: the man with the gold rules. The U.S. government put up almost all the money to keep Chrysler in business. It is headed by a president whose grasp of industrial history led him to claim, “we (Americans) invented the automobile.” I am sure that an equally deep appreciation of industrial history resonates through the rest of the federal bureaucracy.
Paraphrasing Conan Doyle, what of the dog that didn’t bark? A good part of the original article expresses an even greater concern with the future of the historical materials of General Motors. To my knowledge, not a single GM official has responded to my worries. GM isn’t even sure of what they have, much less where it is and how to preserve it. All we know for sure is that GM felt free to sell off a great number of the cars in their collection, with no public explanation of why and how the vehicles are redundant to the collection.
No one can predict the future. That’s why those charged with the responsibility of maintaining our industrial heritage owe it to future generations to make sure that their archives are preserved against the vicissitudes of corporate fortune. Following Ford’s example, transferring the majority of the archives to a permanent organization, is the only responsible course or both Chrysler and GM. There are a number of organizations ready and able to preserve the archives.
All it takes, at this point, is sufficient motivation and a little funding. Since we the taxpayers supposedly call the shots at Chrysler and General Motors, I still maintain that it’s important to let our elected officials know that our heritage is an important issue that has not, as yet, been properly addressed.