The CEOs of the Big Three and the president of the UAW showed up in Washington last Tuesday to plead their case for a bailout. But by Thursday they had managed to turn most the country against them. Even their most ardent supporters were at their wits end.
In short, their testimony was a disaster. They hemmed and hawed. They mumbled and stumbled. They skirted the questions. And even when we did learn some interesting facts and figures, the Senators at the hearing had to pry it out of them with crow bars.
Worse yet, they exhibited zero leadership, no salesmanship, and were completely unpersuasive. No wonder they can't sell cars. These guys couldn't give away free ice cream cones to a kindergarten class.
John McElroy is host of the TV program "Autoline Detroit" and daily web video "Autoline Daily". Every week he brings his unique insights as an auto industry insider to Autoblog readers.
Contrast that to Lee Iacocca's testimony in 1979 when Chrysler needed a bailout. Iacocca would swagger into those hearings looking not like a Captain of Industry, but like the Admiral of an entire armada. He'd take charge by barking orders at his staff, badgering his opponents, and sweet talking his supporters. He convinced everyone he had a plan and knew what he was doing, and did it in a way that connected with the average American. Now there was a salesman!
This time around, the stumblebums at the Big Three got caught up in a vicious news cycle that excoriated them for flying into DC on their plush corporate jets. And when they were asked how they could possibly go begging for billions in taxpayer money while flying around in the lap of luxury, they claimed that corporate policy forced them to travel that way. I just closed my eyes and slowly shook my head.
Why didn't they car-pool and all drive to DC together? That would have sent a message. Especially if they had been in a hybrid.
Better still, next time they should each take a fuel-cell car, a plug-in, or a two-mode hybrid. They should caravan down together, asking supporters to join them along the way, pulling into Washington with thousands of American-made cars and trucks, pitch pup-tents on the Mall, hold a march, and turn it into a movement.
And the next time will come on December 6th when Michigan's Democratic senators Levin and Stabenow hope to introduce legislation that will free up some of the $25 billion earmarked to help them retool their plants. The idea is to give GM and Chrysler a quick cash infusion until a more comprehensive bridge loan can be negotiated.
But I give that effort a snowball's chance in hell. This is exactly the idea that President Bush first proposed. So Levin and Stabenow have now crossed the aisle to join the Republicans, while their Democratic leaders, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Harry Reid, rejected it outright. Why? Because the environmental lobby went ballistic. It's demanding that every penny of that $25 billion be spent on retooling for fuel-efficient cars, not for a cash infusion.
As I've said from the very beginning, the Big Three are not going to get a penny until Barack Obama is sworn in as president. He's on the record saying he will save Detroit's automakers and their UAW workers. And I take him at his word. The only question is, can GM hold on long enough?
This country needs its domestic auto industry for reasons that I've enumerated here already. It's a critical part of our economic engine, and losing it would have dire implications for our national defense.
That's why I still support a bailout, even though the testimony from the Big Three and the UAW is one of the worst performances I've ever seen.
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