DETROIT - All they needed was 17 minutes to hatch a plot for the future.
One year ago this week, Robert Eaton, then chairman of Chrysler Corp., and Juergen Schrempp, then chairman of Daimler-Benz AG, met for a mere 17 minutes in Eaton's tower office at Chrysler's world headquarters.
'It was short because we had the same view of the future of this industry, and we understood why this merger would be so good for both companies,' Eaton said in remarks prepared for his address Sunday night, Jan. 10, at the Automotive News World Congress.
'We didn't need to waste time talking about why it made sense,' Eaton said.
Schrempp, also scheduled to speak, was to focus on DaimlerChrysler AG, while Eaton was to discuss the new company's business environment.
With global overcapacity, expect more mergers, Eaton said.
The industry lately has been a giant cotillion, 'with everybody looking for the best dance partner and trying to figure out who leads and who follows,' he said.
Some automakers are well into the 'heavy courting' stage, Eaton said.
It is safe to predict that 1999 will bring more marriage announcements, he said.
It also is a safe bet that many major suppliers will combine and that companies that have zealously guarded their single status will have to rethink their ability to survive alone, he said.
On other topics, Eaton said he was encouraged by the success of the European Union, which began trading last week in the common currency of euros.
'If the major countries of Europe can overcome a couple thousand years of conflict, if they can look beyond old provincial considerations at the new reality of a single world economy, then there's hope for the rest of the world, too,' he said.
Eaton said the auto industry should get credit for its safety improvements in vehicles, but he knows that will not happen: 'Nothing the industry does to improve the safety of its vehicles will deter the endless lawsuits occurring today.'
He called for significant legal reform and a return of common sense and personal responsibility.
Eaton concluded: 'There are going to be some opportunities along the way that we can't see yet, and they are probably going to be bigger than the dreams we have for this company and this industry right now.'