ENGLEWOOD, Colo. - Holocaust survivor Evelyn Davis, her voice cracking, repeatedly asked, 'How could you do this, Bob?'
She wanted Chairman Robert Eaton to explain how American icon Chrysler Corp. could merge with German company Daimler-Benz AG, given Germany's role in World War II.
Davis spoke during the automaker's annual meeting of shareholders here.
'Evelyn, believe me, I understand the depth of your feelings,' Eaton said. 'This was obviously done as a result of the way the company and the world is today, not 50 years ago.'
It was an emotional moment for both Davis and Eaton, who appeared at times to be fighting back tears. It also was the only drama during an annual meeting in which just 65 shareholders showed up.
Chrysler will send stockholders a proxy statement in early July with details of the merger, and a vote will be scheduled probably in the last half of August, Eaton said.
Davis, 67, a well-known corporate gadfly, said Chrysler should instead do joint ventures with Daimler-Benz. Davis said she was sent during the war to a concentration camp in the former Czechoslovakia.
Eaton said the proposed merger will help overcome the atrocities and tragedies of World War II.
'In some small way, businesses working together worldwide help create an environment where you're not likely to ever have that repeat itself,' Eaton said.
He said his wife never knew her father because he was killed in Normandy three weeks before she was born.
Davis had little help from fellow shareholders. Only two others spoke out against the merger.
Eaton said after the meeting that Chrysler first realized it was time to think about a global partner when the automaker in 1997 failed to meet its internal goal of 20 percent annual growth overseas. Chrysler had been meeting its goal since 1992.
With the economic crisis in Southeast Asia, it was clear that Chrysler would not meet its overseas goal this year, either, Eaton said.
That, coupled with the overcapacity in the industry, 'made me believe that there would be a consolidation in the industry,' Eaton said.
'We decided that whoever moved first would be in the best position,' he said.
Eaton also addressed escalating incentives. He said average Big 3 sales incentives now are $1,750 per unit and $1,525 at Chrysler.
He said new products, such as the 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee to be unveiled June 16, will help to reduce incentives during the third quarter.
Regarding New Venture Gear Inc. of Troy, Mich., Eaton said Chrysler and co-owner General Motors have stopped shopping for a buyer for the joint-venture supplier of transfer cases and transmission parts.
Said Eaton: 'With all the stuff going on, we decided to take that one off the table.'