Steve Chapman

Does Rockefeller get complaints from Toyota owners about the grueling trips to get service? Chrysler, by the way, admits that the average customer's drive to the dealer will increase -- from 6.67 miles to 7.09 miles.

But once senators get the chance to micromanage business decisions, they are reluctant to pass it up. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, proved that meddlesome government is not a Democratic monopoly. She proposed that Chrysler be forced to give its dealers 60 days to unwind their operations instead of less than a month, as the company decided.

Hutchison fondly recalled that when she was selling ads for the high school football program in her teen years, a car dealer provided the school's first sale. Retailers should be accommodated, she insists, because they have "nothing to do with the cost of the company."

But CEO Fritz Henderson, whose job, unlike hers, actually depends on knowledge of his company's cost structure, said the support GM provides to dealers amounts to about $1,000 per vehicle -- a figure that would be lower with a downsized network. Cost aside, the companies say an excess of dealers means some can't make enough money to serve customers well, damaging their brands.

While lamenting the fate of the unfortunate dealerships that will be dropped, the senators overlooked another group that will be deeply affected by the closures -- the remaining dealers. They can expect to capture more sales, boost their profits and even provide new jobs in sales and service.

One Detroit-area Chrysler dealer told a local newspaper that he plans to add at least 30 employees to his staff of 85. When that happens, don't expect a Senate hearing for them to express their gratitude.

Now that Washington has intervened to rescue these corporations, it can easily justify reviewing and even reversing their business decisions. But, as the senators proved, having the excuse is not the same as having the competence.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

©Creators Syndicate