Fuel-efficient caravan planned for automakers' next trip to D.C.
BY TOM WALSH and MARK PHELAN
FREE PRESS BUSINESS WRITERS
A plan is taking shape for auto suppliers, dealers and the UAW to participate in a cavalcade of fuel-efficient American-brand vehicles to Washington, D.C., in December, when Congress reconsiders the industry's plea for quick action on low-interest loans.
The aim is to put a populist face on the need for the American auto industry's survival and to build grassroots support for federal aid, in the wake of criticism that the Detroit Three chief executive officers and UAW President Ron Gettelfinger did not make a convincing case during two days of congressional hearings last week.
"There was so much misinformation in the hearings last week. I'd love to see something come to fruition where people show what this industry means to the country," said Carl Galeana, president of Galeana Automotive Group, which has domestic and import dealerships in Michigan, South Carolina and Florida.
"I'll do whatever I can to save this industry," he added.
The proposal took shape Friday after Tim Leuliette, chairman and CEO of Dura Automotive, a Rochester Hills-based supplier, broached the idea to Rick Wagoner, Alan Mulally and Bob Nardelli, the CEOs of General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler LLC. Other supplier executives and auto dealers were quickly engaged in the discussion.
"We want to help dispel the myths" about the Detroit Three, Sean McGuire, Dura vice president of marketing, said Sunday. "It's important to show that these are truly high-tech companies that produce a variety of alternate-fuel and high fuel-efficiency vehicles."
Ford, GM, Chrysler and UAW representatives expressed support for the idea Sunday.
"The UAW thinks it's great that so many people understand the importance of good American jobs and know the value and quality of American vehicles," spokesman Roger Kerson said.
The goal is to bring together a group of 100 or more auto industry leaders and local officials for a rally in Hart Plaza in support of the loans. A cavalcade of hybrids and other fuel-efficient vehicles made by GM, Chrysler and Ford then would head to Washington, with stops along the way for rallies and news conferences. If the CEOs and Gettelfinger present Congress with a specific recovery plan as requested by Dec. 2 and appear for more testimony on Dec. 8, the cavalcade probably would begin on Sunday, Dec. 7.
But the date and the specifics are still under discussion.
Metro Detroit component suppliers and dealers are generally supportive of proposals for a bridge loan of $25 billion to the Detroit automakers to help with immediate cash flow needs, plus another $25 billion already approved for retooling to make more fuel-efficient vehicles. But many are concerned that Congress has a distorted view of the industry, which was exacerbated by the contentious exchanges at last week's hearings between the CEOs and some members of Congress, who criticized the CEO salaries and use of private corporate planes to attend the hearings.
Many suppliers and dealers already have sent letters supporting aid. But they think that a more visible public show of support is warranted.
In a letter sent Nov. 13 by Leuliette to President George W. Bush, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and members of Congress, he said, "The U.S. auto industry is an integral part of the American economic fabric. It has been aggressively and successfully restructuring but it has been caught in a perfect storm that caused an economic crisis over which the industry has no control. The crisis not only endangers that restructuring but the future of one of America's most important industries.
"As a nation we are in the midst of the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression," Leuliette wrote. "It will deepen if the auto industry collapses. Without federal loans that is not a possibility; it is a certainty."
Contact TOM WALSH at 313-223-4430 or firstname.lastname@example.org.