They're desperate for a U.S. government bailout, so the Detroit automakers probably won't reply, "We already did, and Congress already rejected it."
The car company CEOs thought they were presenting viable plans earlier this week, in presentations to the Senate Banking Committee and the House Financial Services Committee. The response from Congress was pretty much, "Don't let the doorknob hit you on the way out."
The presentations from Ford, GM and Chrysler were basically the same stump speeches the automakers have given shareholders and Wall Street analysts, showing how they're already cutting expenses, eliminating jobs and slashing production in response to lower demand, while trying to come up more fuel-efficient and appealing products.
However, the automakers came across as if they were defending "business as usual" as much as they were documenting a crisis and begging for help.
"Mr. Chairman, I do not agree with those who say we are not doing enough to position GM for success," GM Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner said in written comments directed at Sen. Christopher Dodd, in a Nov. 18 hearing.
"What exposes us to failure now is not our product lineup, or our business plan, or our long-term strategy," Wagoner said.
"What exposes us to failure now is the global financial crisis, which has severely affected credit availability, and reduced sales to the lowest per-capita level since World War II," he said.
That sort of talk handed a lot of ammunition to Detroit's critics. For starters, it's self-evident that GM's business plan and long-term strategy must not be working so well, or else GM wouldn't have been there in the first place.
In addition, if the financial crisis is really the only thing that ails the auto industry, that almost seems to support the position of Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr., who maintains that the first priority of the $700 billion financial-services industry bailout is to bail out the financial-services industry, not automakers.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Nov. 21 sent an open letter to the Big Three U.S. auto executives, giving them until Dec. 2 to present a plan, for Congress to review in a special session the week of Dec. 8. Not only that, Pelosi and Reid said they will also invite other government agencies, including the Government Accountability Office, the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve, as well as outside experts, to comment on the plans.
Assuming the car companies swallow hard and comply, that could be the scariest indication yet of just how desperate the Detroit automakers are.