NEW ORLEANS (AP) – With Chrysler LLC’s U.S. sales down 30 percent last year, an economy mired in recession and the automaker living on government loans, the last thing you’d expect a dealer to do is order more cars and trucks.

But that’s exactly what Michael Andretta, owner of a Chrysler-Jeep-Dodge dealership in central Pennsylvania, intends to do after being inspired by Vice Chairman Jim Press’ presentation at an auto dealers convention in New Orleans.

“I’m going to go back and I’m going to order cars that I don’t need,” Andretta said Sunday after Press and other Chrysler managers met with dealers at the National Automobile Dealers Association convention.

Chrysler executives asked the dealers each to order a wholesale allocation set by the company that totals 78,000 vehicles for February, and Andretta and other dealers said they have no problem doing it. The company has a total 3,300 dealers nationwide.

“A feeling we took away from this meeting is that we’re all in this together,” Andretta said. “And that we’re going to survive together, that we’re doing the right things.”

General Motors Corp., the other U.S. automaker receiving government loans, held a similar meeting Sunday, and while dealers said executives were upbeat, they gave little specifics on GM’s plans, especially what the company plans to do with the struggling Hummer, Saab and Saturn brands.

Before the Chrysler meeting, Andretta said he expected dealers to be negative in their questioning of Press and other Chrysler executives. But he said Press’ presentation of the company’s viability plan and future products reassured the dealers that the company was going to make it through 2009 and thrive.

Dealers, Andretta said, are pushing Press, a former top Toyota Motor Corp. executive, to go on television to tell the company’s story, something Press said he didn’t want to talk about.

Most dealers were positive after the meeting even though Press told them they would be asked to make sacrifices with all other Chrysler stakeholders including employees, the United Auto Workers and bondholders.

For dealers, that includes the request to order 78,000 vehicles, which Executive Vice President for Sales and Marketing Steven Landry said is still 12 percent fewer than February of last year.

Other sacrifices include a one-year freeze on labor rate increases for repairs that dealers make under warranty, and Chrysler stopping its reimbursement for gasoline in cars moving off dealer lots, dealers and executives said.

Dealers said Press received a standing ovation after his presentation. Andretta, whose dealership is in Beaver Springs, Pa., said he’s is hoping the company’s offer of employee pricing, plus low-interest financing, plus incentives will boost sales of the new cars that he orders. He and other dealers already are seeing signs of that in January.

Press wouldn’t reveal what concessions he will ask dealers to make other than ordering more cars. The concessions are part of the company’s effort to meet a plan filed in Washington to get $4 billion in government loans with another $3 billion under consideration.

He said dealers understand the need for everyone to “put some skin in the game,” to help Chrysler to survive.

“They also realize they can help save us all some money that will help preserve the future and make us more successful,” he said.

Press and Landry plan to take their presentation this week in eight cities across the country starting Monday in New Jersey, explaining Chrysler’s viability plan and talking to dealers.

That doesn’t mean dealers aren’t worried about the company’s future and the future of their businesses.

Tom Lane, owner of a family operated Chrysler-Jeep-Dodge dealer in Everett, Wash., near Seattle, said he has worried about the business ever since he got into it with his family.

“That’s what keeps you motivated,” he said.

But Lane also was buoyed by Press’ speech and says he also is seeing signs of a sales resurgence.

Dealers said they are excited about the potential deal for Fiat Group SpA to take a 35 percent stake in Chrysler in exchange for its small-car and small-engine technology, and many said they are anxious to get Fiat cars to fill holes in Chrysler’s lineup.

“Although this alliance could take a year to come to fruition, this Fiat deal will have rip-roaring success,” said Andretta. “It’s exactly what we need.”

GM, which has received $9.4 billion in government loans and expects to get $4 billion more after submitting a viability plan on Feb. 17, was less specific than Chrysler at its dealer meeting, dealers said.

Many Saab, Hummer and Saturn dealers left wondering about the future of their brands. GM has said it is looking externally for buyers for Saab and Hummer, and looking internally, perhaps at dealers, for a Saturn buyer.

Jerry Seiner, who owns several GM franchises in the Salt Lake City area including a Hummer dealership, said GM’s management team, including Chief Executive Rick Wagoner and Chief Operating Officer Fritz Henderson, told dealers they were limited in what they could say before they submit their viability plan to the government.

No specifics were offered on what dealers might be asked to give back, but they said they expect that to come in the future.

“It was vague, but I think it was still upbeat,” Bryan Case, who runs several GM franchises in Beaumont, Texas. “I think a very good, viable plan is going to be presented at the Feb. 17 deadline,” he said. “That’s really the linchpin.”

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