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Big Three CEOs Stage PR Comeback?


Leaving the private jets in Detroit for second round of bailout pleas.

The 40-watt lightbulb deep in the heads of Detroit's CEOs flickered to life as they attempted to stage one of the biggest public relations comebacks in the history of the universe.

In November, the CEOs of General Motors (GM), Ford (F) and Chrysler flew to Washington in private jets to beg Uncle Sam for a $25 billion handout.

Oops. You'd think it might be smart to brush up on your poor-boy act before jangling the tin cup before Congress. Well, these guys are smart; they finally caught on.

Alan Mulally, Ford's honcho, plans to drive about 10 hours to Washington from Detroit in a gas-electric hybrid vehicle for the second round of testimony today. (With luck, it won't be a Toyota (TM) Prius.) GM and Chrysler said that their top dogs won't fly in private jets this time, but didn't disclose how they'd get to Washington.

Saturday Night Live spoofed the executives in a skit after they flew to Washington in 3 different corporate jets to tell Congress how badly they needed the dough. That rabbit punch to the solar plexus may have helped the CEOs see the error of their ways, because their in-house advisors somehow didn't see the public-relations catastrophe coming.

The automakers are scheduled to present their revised plans for use of the bailout funds today. That's about as reassuring as knowing that members of Congress will be evaluating them.

The automakers are also scheduled to report November sales today. They're likely to be dismal thanks to the credit crunch and are almost certain to be used to underscore the need for the bailout.

Chrysler and GM say they'll run out of money within months unless Uncle Sam forks over the bucks. Ford warns that it's likely to fall dangerously low in cash in the second half of 2009. They're not eager to talk about reorganizing under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

The Washington Post reports that Chrysler will propose that Detroit's 3 automakers collaborate on the development of advanced technology cars.

"That technology would then be transferred over to the auto companies," Chrysler CEO Robert L. Nardelli told the Senate Banking Committee last month. "It would make the $25 billion go further. It would be more cost-effective. If it became a wholly owned affiliate, you can get private equity to invest in it and then market that."

Such lofty plans are likely to be obscured by the mystery mode of transportation selected by GM and Chrysler executives to travel to Washington.

With any luck, they won't travel on horseback - not unless they want the Environmental Protection Agency to note the piles of horse exhaust they've left in the street.
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