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Auto industry to caravan to D.C.

The Detroit firms want Congress to see how many people depend on the automakers.

November 25, 2008|Associated Press

DETROIT — After being skewered by Congress and lampooned on NBC's "Saturday Night Live," the chief executives of Detroit's Big 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, 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, spokesman Tony Cervone said. A Chrysler spokeswoman wouldn't comment on CEO Bob Nardelli's travel plans, and a Ford spokesman said no decision had been made on how CEO Alan Mulally would go if summoned.

The carpool idea came out of meetings Friday at Dura Automotive Systems Inc., an auto parts maker in suburban Rochester Hills. President and CEO Tim Leuliette said that during the weekend the company 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," Leuliette said.

Industry representatives want Congress to see not just CEOs in suits during the hearings, but the many people dependent on the automakers for their livelihoods, Leuliette 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," he said.

The movement comes after last week's disastrous hearings for two congressional committees. Mulally, Nardelli and 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.

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