GM, Ford & Chrysler CEOs Take Their Medicine

Big 3 Bailout
Big 3 Bailout

So, I know I'm going a little off the Rx reservation, but as a former metro Detroiter I felt compelled to write about what's going on with the American automakers in the wake of what I see as a tremendous missed opportunity for some good PR and goodwill yesterday.

I lived in Michigan for nearly 10 years and I have several friends who work in the auto industry and others whose livelihoods depend on it. One acquaintance recently declared bankruptcy. I've received at least two emails in the past couple of days asking me to lobby my congressional representatives to help save the car companies and while I sympathize with my friends' plight, as a reporter/journalist I can't and won't do that kind of stuff.

The "Detroit 3" (I can't call them the "Big 3" anymore) CEOs knew they were sitting ducks, that Congress would be loaded for bear and ready to haul these guys out to the woodshed. So, what did they do? They each flew in corporate jets to DC. I get that bigtime CEOs are busy and that there can be security concerns. But at a time when the American automakers are burning through cash at an alarming rate, laying people off left and right and asking the feds for billions of dollars to help them survive they or their handlers couldn't see the benefit of traveling on a budget?

For example, imagine the media bang General Motors could have gotten if Rick Wagoner had driven himself to Washington in one of the new Chevy Volt electric hybrids? If the thing couldn't make it the entire way on one charge, the company could have had several of them waiting for him along the route. CNBC reported GM spent 20-grand to shuttle Wagoner to and from Washington. Some have suggested that the three men could have jetpooled on one of their aircraft, but that's not a smart business decision, heaven forbid something happened. But they could've easily flown commercial on separate planes.

Detroit is a major Northwest Airlines hub. On their web site, I counted three daily non-stops from Detroit to Dulles and nine of them to Reagan National. According to the web site, with a one-day advanced purchase they could've gone roundtrip for as little as $250 bucks with the hoi polloi in back. If they had to be up front it would've run them around $1,300.

Those who are familiar with my interviewing style probably won't be surprised that I thought the two questions Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) put to the panel yesterday were my kind of questions. And I'm not saying that because he happens to be from the district that takes in the town where I grew up—Sunland, CA.

He asked the three CEOs for a show of hands from anyone who flew commercial to Washington. When no hands went up, Congressman Sherman asked for the record to reflect that. Then, he followed up by calling for a show of hands from CEOs who would fly back commercial and park and sell their abandoned corporate jets in DC (he didn't specify that they be put on eBay).

Again, no hands went up and Sherman said that should go on the record. In two simple, short, direct questions Congressman Sherman or someone on his staff created what was arguably the most memorable moment in two days' worth of hearings and speechifying by politicians.

Update: I've received many emails regarding this post, but I thought this one was worthy of a quick follow-up because blog reader David Kurkowski asked some pertinent questions that deserved to be asked and answered. He wants to know how Representative Sherman travels between Washington and California. A spokesman says the Congressman flies coach. And Mr. Kurkowski wants to know what kind of car(s) Sherman drives and whether they're, as he put it, econoboxes. The spokesman says Congressman Sherman is the proud owner of two American-made "sedans."

Questions? Comments?