Driving Mr. Auto Maker

This was written by Dan Farber of CNET News.


CEOs from General Motors, Ford and Chrysler were back on Capital Hill asking for a $34 billion bailout, and perhaps more, to stay afloat. The CEOs came to Washington D.C. this time with a more chaste attitude and the survival proposals requested by Congress. But they quickly got into making their desperate pleas for salvation.

"Give us the money allow us to survive," Chrysler CEO Bob Nardelli said.

(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
GM CEO Rick Wagoner and Ford CEO Alan Mulally echoed Nardelli's sentiment regarding releasing some of the $34 billion funds to avoid bankruptcy. Chrysler wants $7 billion immediately to stay out of bankruptcy. GM asked for $4 billion now and a $6 billion line of credit, and Ford asked for a "standby" $9 billion line of credit. All three automakers agreed to support the concept of a federal oversight board that could oversee how funds are dispensed as well as impose restructuring conditions and enforce them as a matter of law.

As in the previous hearing, members of the Senate Banking Committee were interested in the mode of transportation taken from Detroit to the nation's Capital. The corporate jets have been temporarily mothballed in a symbolic gesture to their expensive travel habits in the face of financial disaster. Senator Richard Shelby, R-Ala., who opposes the bailout, asked the big three automakers if they did the driving themselves and if they planned to drive back to Detroit. They all copped to doing some of the driving and that they would drive the 520 miles back to Detroit in their new hybrid vehicles. It's not hard to imagine these high-powered executives grinding their teeth as they put their feet to the pedals on their journey to make their case before the Congress and the American people, who according a CNN poll are not favorably disposed to a bailout.

If the government grants the loans to the automakers, the auto executives might doing a lot more driving of their company cars and flying on commercial airlines. The proposed federal oversight board could require that they submit a detailed business justification before they get on a corporate jet again. GM, Ford and Chrysler executives driving themselves around the country like mere mortals could do wonders for their tarnished image.

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