NEW YORK – What a difference a couple of weeks makes. The CEOs of Detroit's big three automakers are once again in DC to plead for a government bailout - but this time they left the private jets at home and drove.
Ford's Alan Mullaly, GM's Rick Wagoner and Chrysler's Bob Nardelli made the nine-hour journey in their companies' hybrid cars.And they aren't stopping there. All three men also say they will now lower their salaries to a dollar each if their companies tap federal aid. It is clear they learned a lesson from the public relations fiasco that surrounded their last trip to Capitol Hill - but have they really changed?
In an effort to try and secure a financial life-line, all three have vowed to shrink their companies. They will be slashing jobs, shedding car lines and shifting production to energy efficient vehicles. At least that is the plan.
And they are not the only ones vowing to change. At a press conference Wednesday the head of the United Auto Workers Ron Gettelfinger said the union will consider making modifications to their existing labor contract. They are allowing the car companies to delay payments to a union-managed health care fund. But the union leader stopped short of re-opening the contract, leaving some speculating the give-backs would be limited.
There are other reasons to be deeply skeptical about this industry's ability to re-invent itself.
The amount of emergency money the companies say they need has gone up. In just two weeks the number has grown from $25 billion to $34 billion.
All these managers have unveiled turnaround plans in recent years - and none have been successful.
The CEOs now say they will cut their pay, but two weeks ago they didn't think that was necessary - even though Mullaly made almost $22 million last year and Wagoner $14.4 million. Nardelli's 2007 salary is not disclosed since Chrysler is now a private company.
Some Republican lawmakers have suggested that the government aid come with the condition that current management step down.
It may be that in the eleventh hour, with collapse looming for both General Motors and Chrysler, these CEOs and union leaders have truly been converted.
You'll get a chance to see yourself Thursday and Friday when they make their case once again for lawmakers and the general public.
But do you think these men can lead the charge to change? Or does the old management guard need to get swept out to give U.S. carmakers a real shot at survival?
Let us know what you think.
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