DETROIT – After being skewered by Congress and lampooned on NBC's "Saturday Night Live," the CEOs of Detroit's three automakers may end up making their return trip to Washington by car as they seek a federal bailout.
The Detroit area's auto industry, whose livelihood depends on the health of Chrysler LLC, Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Corp. spent the weekend e-mailing and discussing how to set up a giant car caravan to seek help from Congress.
What's for certain is GM CEO Rick Wagoner won't be going to Washington by corporate jet, although the company's policy is not to comment on executive travel plans for security reasons, said spokesman Tony Cervone. A Chrysler spokeswoman wouldn't comment on executive travel plans, and a message was left for a Ford spokesman.
The carpool idea came out of meetings on Friday at Dura Automotive Systems Inc., an auto parts maker in suburban Rochester Hills. President and CEO Tim Leuliette said that during the weekend they contacted the automakers, suppliers, dealership groups and the United Auto Workers and the movement began building.
"The proper people are talking to the proper people, and things are getting put together," said Leuliette. "This really picked up momentum over the weekend."
Industry representatives want Congress to see not just three CEOs in suits during the hearings, but the many people dependent on the automakers for their livelihoods, Leuliette said.
"Quite honestly, this is about America," he said. "This is a process of people's lives being affected, and sometimes they don't know how to put a voice to those concerns."
The movement comes after last week's disastrous hearings in front of two Congressional committees. Ford CEO Alan Mulally, Chrysler LLC CEO Robert Nardelli and GM's Wagoner traveled to Washington on separate corporate jets to seek $25 billion in government loans to help them make it through the worst U.S. auto sales downturn in 25 years.
Congress, though, abandoned a vote on the bailout after the appearances in which the automakers were criticized for lavish corporate travel, as well as for having poor business plans and high labor costs that some members said would keep them from being competitive with Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co.
Many of the CEOs' answers were vague, and it appeared as though they had no specific plan to change the way they do business in order to justify the bailout. Lawmakers have demanded restructuring plans by Dec. 2, with hearings to follow.
The automakers say they need the loans to help them survive the worst sales environment in more than 25 years. GM and Chrysler said that without the loans, they soon will be in danger of running so low on cash that they can't pay all of their bills. Ford is in better shape because it borrowed billions last year to help weather an economic downturn.
The CEOs' trip to Washington went so poorly that "Saturday Night Live," in a sketch about the next round of hearings, showed Wagoner presenting a schedule of billions in government payments without an accompanying business plan to justify the money.
Leuliette, whose company makes shifter systems, seating controls, safety gear and other items for nearly all automakers, said an automotive car caravan could help show the industry in a better light.
"All of them would say in hindsight they should have been better prepared or prepared in a different way," he said of the CEOs.
Detroit's car makers employ nearly a quarter-million workers, and more than 730,000 other workers produce materials and parts that go into cars. If just one of the automakers declared bankruptcy, some estimates put U.S. job losses next year as high as 2.5 million.
"We want to let people know that we're a part of this country, and a huge part of this country," said Detroit-area car dealer Carl Galeana, who last year was senior co-chairman of Detroit's auto show.
So what do you think- is it the right move, or is it too late?