Pilgrims' Progress: GM, Ford and Chrysler's CEOs Have a Capitol Idea

Frank Williams
by Frank Williams

On Tuesday, Detroit's top execs made another pilgrimage to Washington, D.C. The Detroit News reported that the troubled troika all arrived at Capitol Hill in fuel-efficient vehicles as a "symbolic gesture." Mulally belted across the Beltway in a Ford Escape hybrid. Wagoner wheeled up in a hybrid Saturn Aura. And LaSorda made the scene in a flex-fuel Town & Country minivan. Of course, none of these vehicles are their makers' most frugal cars. However, we can't have America's automotive aristocrats getting off their fuel-sucking private corporate jets and jumping into a run-of-the-mill Aveo, Focus or Caliber, now can we?

The hypocrisy is stunning. Lest we forget, when the Toyota Prius first whirred into view, Detroit dismissed the gas-electric hybrid vehicle as a meaningless PR stunt. And now, two out of three American automotive magnates cloak themselves in hybrid hype to convince Washington they're down with the whole hi-tech gas-saving thing. You know; now that they want some help competing on a "level playing field" with those tricky transplants. Again. Still.

Of course, this kind of running-on-empty automotive gesture is hardly restricted to Michigan's golden parachute-clad corporate con artists. No Hollywood star worth his or her Oprah confessional would dare show up at a red carpet event in a gas guzzler. They leave their multi-thousand-square-foot homes, heated pools and garaged exotics to make the scene in the latest hybrid or electric trendmobile- just in case anyone questions their environmental credentials.

Likewise, politicians. Last month, Senator Barak Obama harangued the Detroit Economic Club with a scathing condemnation of the U.S. auto industry. The Democratic Presidential hopeful accused The Big 2.8 of unconscionable foot-dragging on CAFE standards. According to the man who would be President, Detroit's "spending millions to prevent the very reform that could've saved their industry" and "spending their time investing in bigger, faster cars."

Almost as soon as Obama's anti-Detroit bombshell hit the PR newswires, hometown reporters revealed the inconvenient truth about the pol's garage, filled as it was with a Chrysler 300C. The Senator duly ditched his Hemified whip for a Ford Escape Hybrid.

No surprise there. The Missouri-made Escape Hybrid and its corporate clone (the Mercury Mariner Hybrid) are the politicos' gesturemobiles du jour. When she's not being ferried about in an armored Cadillac or Chevy Suburban, Hillary Clinton (well, actually, hubby Bill) drives a refrigerator-equipped Mariner Hybrid. John Edwards and Al Gore both keep the planet cool (warm?) with their Escape Hybrids.

At least that's what their PR folks say. One wonders how much time our democratically-elected leaders spend in these cramped hybrids in lieu of the limos, SUVs and staff cars that transport these prodigious pork barrel purveyors around town, and block the streets around Capitol Hill.

And onto those storied streets drove Rick, Alan, and Tom, trying to neuter legislation designed to force them to build more fuel-efficient vehicles, like the ones they were driving. The heads of GM, Ford and Chryslerberus know they can't stop increases in the fuel economy standards. All they can do is minimize the federal minimum so they can keep selling more profitable gas guzzling trucks and SUVs have the time they need to engineer more fuel-efficient vehicles, like the ones they were driving.

Rick Wagoner more or less admitted that the mandatory fuel economy gig was up. The GM lifer told long-suffering GM stockholders that it was time to move on to the other bulges in the Gordian knot strangling The General. "It looks like… it's very likely there will be increases in CAFE… Let's make sure that we also fix the real problems while we're doing that."

By "real problems," Rick was alluding to his company's [self-inflicted] unsustainable cost structure and ongoing failure to maintain domestic market share- problems shared by his friends indeed.

So… bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do? More specifically, what the Hell are you doing in DC when you should at home figuring out how to build products consumers want to buy at a price that makes you enough money so you can sort this out yourself?

Of course, Detroit's corporate lions prefer maintaining the status quo and jetting to Washington on someone else's dime. They're old pros at pressing the flesh at the center of an enormous bureaucracy; a bureacracy that sees nothing wrong with running-up massive debts, mortgaging their constituents' future to protect their own short term interests.

If CEOs Rick Wagoner, Alan Mulally and Tom LaSorda wanted to make an effective symbolic gesture, they should have driven from Detroit to Washington and back in an Aveo, Focus, or Caliber.

By enduring 1000 miles in those noisy, cramped, cheap cars– byproducts of their bean-counted design and engineering processes– they'd tell the world that their very best fuel-sipping products are good enough for government work. How appropriate is that?

Frank Williams
Frank Williams

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  • Jurisb Jurisb on Jun 09, 2007

    nice, one top dog arrives in D.c. with a rebdged japanese negineered mazda tribute with japanese hybrid technologies constructed by another japanese company to show that american car manufacturers CARE about DOMESTIC car mileages. Another top dog arrives with a german engineered opel vectra with japanese hybrid technology showing that his represented company cares about DOMESTIC car`s fuel economy and mileage. the third top dog arrives in a domestic van( Ripley`s believe it or not- an american minivan built on an american platform), still using japanese built hybrid technology. yepp, an american revolution...... with a revolution limiter by 5000 revolutions per minute.....( so much for pathos)

  • Anonymous Anonymous on Oct 20, 2013

    […] reforms that could’ve saved their industry.” Shortly thereafter, it was discovered that sitting in the Senator’s driveway was a gleefully-thirsty Chrysler 300C, and yeah, it’s got a Hemi. Obama, redfaced, as it were, went out and bought a Ford Escape […]

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  • Varezhka And why exactly was it that Tesla decided not to coat their stainless steel bodies, again? My old steel capped Volant skis still looks clean without a rust in sight thanks to that metal vapor coating. It's not exactly a new technology.
  • GIJOOOE “Sounds” about as exciting as driving a golf cart, fake gear shifts or not. I truly hope that Dodge and the other big American car makers pull their heads out of the electric clouds and continue to offer performance cars with big horsepower internal combustion engines that require some form of multi gear transmissions and high octane fuel, even if they have to make them in relatively small quantities and market them specifically to gearheads like me. I will resist the ev future for as long as I have breath in my lungs and an excellent credit score/big bank account. People like me, who have loved fast cars for as long as I can remember, need a car that has an engine that sounds properly pissed off when I hit the gas pedal and accelerate through the gears.
  • Kcflyer libs have been subsidizing college for decades. The predictable result is soaring cost of college and dramatic increases in useless degrees. Their solution? More subsidies of course. EV policy will follow the same failed logic. Because it's not like it's their money. Not saying the republicans are any better, they talk a good game but spend like drunken sailors to buy votes just like the libs. The sole function of the U.S. government is to take money from people who earn it and give it away to people who didn't.
  • CecilSaxon Sounds about as smart as VW's "SoundAktor"