Executives from Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors are traveling to Washington, D.C., this week to appeal to lawmakers for federal assistance. On their last visit, the Detroit execs were chastised for indulging in corporate jets – each in their own—while appealing for billions in tax-payer-funded assistance. to avoid repeating that public relations gaffe, these power brokers are driving to the Capitol.
The auto industry is behind them, literally, with representatives from all 50 states heading to Washington to show their support Friday. (Learn more about this effort and how you can show support at theengineofdemocracy.com.)
Bob Nardelli, Alan Mulally, and Rick Wagoner (of Chrysler, Ford and GM, respectively) will face a formidable challenge this week, and the fate of the domestic-bred automotive industry could depend on their performance. After the lackluster initial meeting with congress, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid provided a detailed outline for what they expect to see at the next meeting. Essentially, they are looking for a solid proposal that shows how with additional funding Detroit’s Big 3 can turnaround their struggling businesses and protect the tax-payer investment, rather than merely postpone a probable failure.
For the record, Consumer Reports has said, "The loss of any major auto manufacturer would leave consumers with fewer choices and the industry with less competition and innovation, particularly at a transitional time when the industry is pursuing alternative energy technology." But, Consumer Reports feels that "If the government is going to come to the rescue of the automakers, it shouldn't be a bailout without any strings attached. There need to be strict conditions so taxpayers are protected and the automakers are held accountable to make the necessary changes to become more economically viable and energy efficient." (Read the full statement from Consumer Reports.)
The first act in the great drama to unfold this week is how the executives arrive. Safe to assume, it won’t be in a Dodge Viper, Ford Mustang, or Chevrolet Corvette—though that could be entertaining on Pennsylvania Avenue.
Mulally is driving a Ford Escape Hybrid, according to Automotive News. We’re currently in the process of testing a similar 2009 Mercury Mariner Hybrid. The 2005 Escape Hybrid we tested got 26 mpg overall in our testing—very good for an SUV. Other options for Mulally’s interstate drive included the Focus sedan with a manual (29 mpg) or automatic transmission (26 mpg). Or the upcoming Fusion Hybrid.
Wagoner is taking a Chevrolet Malibu hybrid (27 mpg), a comfortable road-trip-ready car featured in the family sedan test group in our latest issue. We found the fuel economy gains to be mild for a hybrid. (In the same group, the higher-scoring Hyundai Sonata four-cylinder got 26 mpg overall, and it cost thousands less.) Another option would have been the Chevrolet Aveo; we have tested three and the best overall mpg was 28 on a manual version, notably less than several competitors. As a long-distance cruiser, the Aveo leaves much to be desired, which arguably is a good reason for Wagoner to savor the experience. Shame he couldn’t pilot a Chevrolet Volt prototype to Capitol Hill.
Nardelli has the toughest choice to make. The company recently canceled its only hybrid products, Chrysler Aspen and Dodge Durango, just weeks after production began. Scanning the product line, there isn’t much there that promises good fuel economy or touts leading-edge "green" technologies. (Chrysler has showcased electrified versions of current models, though the range is limited.) He could choose a four-cylinder Chrysler Sebring (23 mpg in our tests) or Dodge Caliber (24 mpg). Or a Jeep Patriot. While that car-based SUV is a low-scoring model with just 20 mpg overall, its mere name waves the American flag proudly.
The vehicles selected by each exec will say a lot of about their companies, where they are and where they are going. Further, it will reflect on their own personal priorities.
In this high-stakes, traveling reality show, I can’t image politicians and reporters being more stunned than if the executives all arrived in a Toyota Prius (44 mpg) and promised that their lineups would soon include a model with similar efficiency and pricing. Now that would make headlines.
Ultimately, the financial assistance the automakers seek is coming from you, the taxpayer. What do you think they should drive?
To look up fuel economy figures in making your choice, use our New Car Selector.