WASHINGTON - Difficulties in the DaimlerChrysler marriage, either real or perceived, are putting a strain on the extended family of automakers.
Janet Mullins, Ford Motor Co. vice president for Washington affairs, predicted 'rough waters' ahead for joint research involving the former Big 3 and the federal government if DaimlerChrysler's German managers restrict access to company technical information.
'We know that Daimler sucks all the information out of Chrysler. It's just not happening in reverse,' Mullins charged.
The Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles is the joint research program launched in 1993 by U.S. automakers and the Clinton administration to develop technology for 80-mpg family sedans by 2004.
One of its founding principles was that member companies would share research information.
The partners revised their basic agreement in April 1999 so that the company created by the merger of Chrysler Corp. and Daimler-Benz AG could be a member, but Mullins questions whether DaimlerChrysler is keeping its end of the bargain.
'What we basically said is that `you guys can stay in as long as we have access to all the research in your company, not just Chrysler research, but Daimler research,'' she said. 'I'm not sure that that information flow is what all of our various PNGV folks would like.'
Her objections are the latest sign that the historic, widely hailed 'merger of equals' hasn't been as smooth as its architects hoped. On the inside, there are reports of culture clash. On the outside, there are complaints like Mullins'.
She also predicted possible fallout on Capitol Hill. Winning federal appropriations for the partnership - about $250 million a year in taxpayer money - is always a struggle and will get worse 'as it becomes more obvious (to Congress) that Daimler is a German company,' she said.
Robert Liberatore, DaimlerChrysler senior vice president for public policy, took strong exception to Mullins' views.
'I don't know what she's talking about,' he protested. 'Honest answer: I've not heard anything from any of the government people that anything has changed with PNGV. Maybe it has changed in Janet's mind.'
No company in the program is required to disclose all of its technological research, Liberatore said. Partnership agreements clearly spell out how information sharing is to occur.
'I'm not aware of any problems from the technical side of the house at Ford, he said. 'I've never heard any feedback that there is unhappiness that we're not pulling our weight in the program.'
Finally, Liberatore charged that Mullins 'would be the first one to howl if there was ever any hint that some Ford-developed technology was going over to Germany through us.'
`WE ARE ALL WATCHING'
Ron York, General Motors' director for the partnership, was asked about the post-merger information flow among members.
He said, 'Certainly it is a _concern, something we are all watching.'
But he also said he hasn't seen evidence of a problem so far.
York granted that some changes have been made in the partnership because of DaimlerChrysler's membership, but he said changes can be good.
In one example, DaimlerChrysler balked at partnership research on low-emission painting. The partnership was concentrating on dry-powder paint.
DaimlerChrysler said it was interested in slurrylike emulsions. Now, the partnership has added slurries to the research.
Said York: 'We all agree that if DaimlerChrysler is to participate as a total corporation, that would bring considerable technical expertise from Daimler into play that they are quite good at.'