CEOs from America’s Big Three automakers botched another PR opportunity this week.
Chief executives from GM, Chrysler and Ford returned to Washington, D.C., to request bailout money. The first time they asked for federal dollars lawmakers rebuked them and wondered why these CEOs—desperate for money—each traveled in private jets.
This time, all three drove cars their companies produce to D.C.
“The prospect of the executives motoring along more than 500 miles of highway to Washington—a trip of about nine hours, not counting a possible stop in Pittsburgh for a sandwich at Primanti Brothers—introduces an element of ritualistic public relations gamesmanship,” The New York Times' John Schwartz wrote.
Rick Wagoner, CEO of General Motors, took a Chevy Malibu hybrid.
Ford’s Alan Mulally drove a Ford Escape hybrid.
Chrysler CEO Robert Nardelli also drove a hybrid, although the company did not tell The Times which model.
Of course, many people are arguing that this PR “gamesmanship” is too little, too late. The Big Three should have done this—or at least flown commercial—on their first trip to the capital.
I think they should have gone one step further.
Why not have a contest: “Win a road trip with Wagoner or Mulally or Nardelli”? They could have solicited entries and then during Thanksgiving holiday pulled the winners in a lottery style drawing broadcast across all TV networks.
The CEOs can come off as regular guys, plus it’s the ultimate test drive for the lucky few who win. Of course, the Big Three pick up the tab—and, if the carmakers get their way, the U.S. taxpayers reimburse them.
But why not go two steps further and cut the CEOs out of the deal altogether?
Fly them to D.C. on private jets. (After all, was it really that big a deal in the first place? Or did Americans need another scapegoat for their anger and frustration about the economy?)
Hold the contest and Thanksgiving drawing, and the winners get a road trip with Steve Martin. Forget those stuffy old CEOs. Then, all three winners and Martin pile into a GM, Ford and Chrysler, which they rotate in and out of periodically, and drive to D.C. And, of course, it’s all filmed.
The networks will call it GMs, Fords and Chryslers—a play off Planes, Trains and Automobiles—and regardless of what Congress does for Detroit Americans will be delighted by the mad cap hijinks of this zany road trip.