Big Three CEOs: You Are What You Drive

The CEOs of the Big Three automakers were blasted by US lawmakers last month for bringing their tin cups to Washington in corporate jets. They’ve learned their lesson in the value of political symbolism (oh, now around $35 billion). So for this trip to the capitol, they’re traveling in hybrid cars, no doubt with the tin cups safely nestled in the cupholders too.

But lawmakers would be well advised to examine the symbolism of the specific vehicle models chosen by each CEO for his journey.

1Alan Mulally Rides a Ford Escape Hybrid

Alan Mulally, Ford’s top executive, is making the trip in a Ford Escape Hybrid—introduced in 2004 as the first hybrid gas-electric vehicle made by an American car company. With city fuel economy of 34 mpg, the Ford Escape remains the most fuel-efficient SUV available today. The company’s newest hybrid, the gas-electric Ford Fusion Hybrid, achieves 40 mpg on the highway—the exact target that President-elect Obama would like to see for all cars by 2020.

When Mulally steps out of the greenest SUV available today—a vehicle that offers flexibility, sure-footedness, segment-leading fuel efficiency, and the best in advanced hybrid technology—lawmakers should see a capable CEO ready to lead his company and the American auto industry in a better direction.

Mulally is arriving in DC with a plan that includes rushing the launch of new hybrids and electric vehicles, as well as an agreement to cut his salary to $1 a year, to sell the company’s corporate jets, and to use $9 billion in federal funds only as an emergency line of credit—not just for life support.

2Rick Wagoner Takes a Chevy Malibu Hybrid

Rick Wagoner, GM’s CEO, is traveling in a Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid. GM has sold fewer than 3,000 units of the Chevy Malibu Hybrid, since its introduction in January 2008. The low production numbers in the Malibu Hybrid—and the fact that the Malibu Hybrid uses a low-cost, mild form of hybrid that ekes out negligible fuel efficiency improvements—symbolizes GM’s half-hearted attempts at making hybrids under Wagoner’s watch. Now, as the company makes big promises to Congress, and moves on to its next green pet-project—the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid, which is not yet available for Wagoner’s drive to Washington—lawmakers should wonder if GM’s U-turn away from supersized vehicles and toward green technology is too little too late.

GM says it needs the federal bailout to help it survive. The automaker plans to pare back its lineup of 112 models and 15 brands—including trying to sell Hummer—and is seeking to consolidate debt. Wagoner has also agreed to cut his salary to $1 per year and sell the company jets.

3Robert Nardelli’s Ride: TBD

Chrysler Aspen Hybrid

Chrysler Aspen Hybrid

Robert Nardelli, chief executive of Chrysler, is in on the salary cut too. He was late to the hybrid caravan to Washington but he’s now along for the ride. Chrysler, however, has not specified the model he’ll take. The automaker’s only hybrids—the Dodge Durango Hybrid and Chrysler Aspen Hybrid, are a pair of hemi-engine V8 hybrids that don’t quite manage an average of 20 mpg. These monster hybrids were put into production this fall, but will go out of production this month when Chrysler shutters its Newark, Del., assembly plant. That’s right. Nardelli’s only hybrid choices from the company garage are canceled hybrids—arriving in showrooms for the first time only weeks before they die for good.

Chrysler is holding on by a thread, and seeks a $7 billion bridge loan by Dec. 31 to stabilize the company until it can be merged with another automaker. The company is also promising hybrids and electric cars in the coming years. But the fact that Nardelli might not have a Chrysler hybrid to drive to Congress speaks volumes about the company’s ability to make good on federal funds.

America is a car culture. Like it not, what we drive says a lot about who we are. For the CEOs of the Big Three and the lawmakers deciding their fate, that’s never been truer.

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  • Cindy Harworth

    BTW the 2009 Malibu Hybrid gets better than 2mpg better.

    The current 2008 model year is almost over so this article needs to be corrected.

    I think GM is on the right path with its 2 mode and also its new VOLT.

    They are producing great cars and we need to give them support.

    Ford has 2 great hybirds now with EV on the way.

    Chrysler getting more behind but has some plans for EV.

    So time will tell

    I hope they get the loans cross your fingers!!

  • Bryce

    After reviewing the three different companies plans, it looks like they are, in total, asking for $34 billion.

    The guy above is right, the mpg improvement is aboout 4 mpg, and given the equipment on the hybrid and the tax credit, the added cost of those 4 mpg’s is about $500. People seem to forget to do the math in their criticisms. (small numbers are also as a result of small production numbers so as to avoid the debacle that was the replacing of all of the Vue batteries messed up by Cobasys.

  • Cal

    This whole thing wreaks to high heaven. First they all show up in their corporate jets with their hands out and get declined. Now they realize they have to change gears to try again. What’s that old saying ” You never get a second chance at a first impression”. Only in this case they’re getting a second chance.
    What a joke. Now Ford is saying they might not actually need the money, but ummmmm just in case we need it. So now it takes a credit score of 800 for us to buy a car or house, but we’re going to give the auto guys 25 billion with their crappy track record.
    This all needs to be re-examined.

  • Shines

    Of course Ford already has the best hybrid choices of the 3 with the Escape/Mariner and soon Fusion/Milan hybrids. Ford says they would be OK for a year without a bailout.
    Chevy, well they deserve credit for trying (read that to mean they deserve loan money). The Malibu is OK but here is an example of the problem with Chevy. The new Malibu – non hybrid has a 6 speed transmission that helps it get as good fuel economy as Toyota and Honda non-hybrids. Then they put a less efficient 4 speed transmission in the hybrid so the gain is only about 2 mpg over the non-hybrid. Seems bass ackwards to me…
    If they could get the price down on the 2 mode so anyone who NEEDED a truck could afford one that would be great.
    Chrysler – I don’t know… I won’t say anything bad…

  • Shines

    I checked my numbers on and I see that the Malibu 4 speed is available for the non-hybrid. So comparing that to the hybrid Malibu the difference is a full 4 mpg. Still you’d think Chevy would use the most fuel efficient options in the hybrid, otherwise what’s the point…
    Maybe with the govt. loan they can fix it 😉

  • Dan L

    I will be surprised and impressed if Congress bails out Ford at the same time as they tell Chrysler that they are beyond saving and not worth the taxpayers’ money.

  • RKRB

    -Your article focused on what the CEO’s will be riding to Washington, but the real cause of our problems may be what the Congresspeople are riding to the hearings. I doubt many of them will be riding Escape or Malibu hybrids, or any other vehicle that gets more than 15 or 20 mpg.
    -This says a lot.

  • Bryce

    I think the 6 speed auto will be offered in the hybrid next year hopefully bumping up thehighway fuel economy to 37mpg. Every year, GM just adds a few mpg to its vehicles. Cobalt has gone up 2 mpg each year, and they keep introducing more fuel efficient vehicles.

    To RKRB…..

    I know McCain drives a Cadillac CTS and Obama drives a Escape hybrid Ford, though I really doubt he will drive that thing again in the next 4-8 years….given the cirumstances….lol.

  • bud rumble

    I believe we need to help the auto industry out .I havent heard any CEOs of the fat cat banks saying they will take a cut in pay.Same goes for good ole Fannie , Freddie and our state Govrnment.According to the governor from South Carolina, California Govt.has grown 41% in the last 2 years.We will be broke by March 2009 Why arent they cutting back Like the rest of the country?

  • Pauldr

    All you car enthusiasts need to take a deep breath and look around. Then become mass transit enthusiasts on you way to the zip car station. Car culture is dead.

  • Bryce


    still laughing…..wait…….


    no more needs to be said

  • Skeptic

    Repeat after me: Chevy Volt is vaporware.

    I almost overcame my dislike of Ford products long enough to buy an Escape Hybrid 2.5 years ago. A new job in a new town saved me from having to have that Blue Oval anywhere near me (the seats were really uncomfortable, too). The same truck is badged as a Mazda Tribute, but they don’t sell the hybrid version. Stupid Ford (owners of a chunk of Mazda).

    Hey, but kudos to them for having it out there.

    GM? A joke.

    Chrysler? With John Snow, failed Treasury Secretary and failed Chairman of CSX, on the board … well … maybe they should have stuck with Dieter after all.

  • Bill Cosworth

    Chevy Volt is not a vaporware.

    They are driving one to washington today dumb ass.

  • Shines

    Bill, The GM execs are driving a Malibu Hybrid. That is not the same as the Volt – not even close – other than they’re both Chevy’s.

    Skeptic is just that – a skeptic. The Volt is not production so Skeptic can call it vaporware – free speech.

    I think Skeptic is trying to get you goat Bill.
    I think GM will get a govt. loan and there will be a production Volt in 2010.

    Everyone is entitled to their opinion as long as we’re not reduced to calling each other names.

  • Verhof Hillendale
  • pdxrunner


    From the article…”the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid, which is not yet available for Wagoner’s drive to Washington”

    Did you read the article?

    Who’s the dumb ass now?

  • Frank B

    The main problem with the volt is GM will work very hard.

    Toyota will copy it and say they invented it.

    Then everyone will belive toyota.

    The hybrid prius car was invented by GM in 1969—-g.html

    I think of Toyota like a BW copy machine.

    When GM goes to color Toyota will have no color toner.

    Toyota will say how much more efficient BW copys are vs color.

  • Neil Giganti

    HA HA

    I was reading on GM

    Every GM and Ford model gets better millage than toyota

    Thats great marketing for Toyota Green Image

    They convice american buyers there cars are more green by getting worse gas millage than american cars.

  • Matt Jaoekers

    The malibu is actually rated a better buy over Camery Hybrid

  • Shines

    Frank B. did yiou read the article?
    “It makes so much sense,” the magazine wrote in July, 1969, “that we feel they’re missing a bet if they don’t put it in production.”
    Well guess what – GM didn’t put it into production. 30+ years later Toyota does and now GM is trying to catch up and the volt still won’t be in production until next year.
    Neil, your article is looking at conventional – not hybrid vehicles. It’s nice that America makes vehicles that have more fuel efficient conventional engines. Other than Ford they are late to the game when it comes to the much more efficient hybrids. And by the way it is not every GM and Ford that gets better mileage anyway.
    Matt, Sorry but when I listen to the youtube link you give, the auther is saying one is as good as the other. The only advantage the Malibu has is that it gets the Govt. tax credit – cheaper to buy. The Toyota is still a more efficient hybrid.
    And just a reminder to you Toyota haters, the GM Pontiac Vibe and Toyota Matrix are made in the same factory – a joint venture between GM and Toyota. If GM is willing to work with Toyota, and vise versa, then maybe you shouldn’t be wasting energy hating Toyota so much…

  • Gerald Shields

    Hate to say this, but it doesn’t matter. Neither three should get a bailout, though I wouldn’t mind if Ford got some money, but they should get something from the original 25 billion under the Department of Energy. They got something to talk about with the Escape/Mariner SUVs, the Fusion/Milan as well as speed up a Hybrid Ford Focus. Also, they are doing some development on a plug-in hybrid version of the Escape. Chrysler’s CEO should’ve driven up in one of the ENVI plug-in hybrid models said to be under development or just do commercial, but have members of congress mess around in their new Peapod electric vehicles. GM? It’s clearly evident that GM doesn’t have a hybrid or a plug-in hybrid program. They have a showcase car in the Volt, but that’s it.

  • Neroga Jakeitte

    Ford invented Toyota Hybrid 2 mode.

    Again Toyota copied the technology.

    The evil thing is ford had to buy it back after selling it to toyota.

    Ford had to give Toyota fords engine technology off the f150 to make the tundra in exchange to use the hybrid patients they originally invented. The good thing is ford had improved the new F150 because they were hiding some things and made the 2009 F150 get better millage than tundra.

    Poor ford.

    I hope too the American companies get the bailout.

    WE need American innovation.

  • Samie

    The vehicles shown in this article says it all. GM and BMW with the two-mode system is somewhat puzzling in efficiency and price. I find it silly for some of the discussion that argues over a handful of mpg’s on the Hybrid Malibu. Again I don’t see where the two mode system is going? And by looking at the articles claims of the Hybrid Malibu selling less 3,000 i don’t see consumers excited about it either. I’m not sure GM can use this technology until they find ways to best produce efficiencies in Volt like vehicles with their small amounts of cash flow.

    I’m surprised that nobody harps on Chrysler’s ill attempts at hybrids or the fact that the bailout money may be used to pump up Chrysler until they find a potential buyer or merger for their Jeep brand.

    No more Buick???? Pontiac???? no Oldsmobile……If so it will be a sad day for rural Iowa 🙂

  • Bill Cosworth

    Again Toyota Copy Machine.

    The good thing is a Copy is never as good as the original.

  • Anonymous

    chrysler is making new electric minivans and cars that will cost cheaper then the volt.

    also how will america survive without american cars

  • Bryce

    Well, just to set the facts straight…..

    GM’s CEO will drive the Malibu hybrid to DC the day before. The next morning, from his Hotel to Congress, he will drive a Volt mule, which is in the shell of a Chevy Cruze. (this is because they use the same platform) Wagner (GM’s CEO, incase anyone didn’t know) will stop at Deleware Avenue and talk to the public stepping out of the mule. On site will be a Volt production MODEL (the shell that the EREV drivetrain will utlimately be put in) for the people to look at. (these two, the drivetrain, and the shell will be mated at the beginning of next year)

    There’s the facts folks……lol.

    o….and, if vaporware are things not in production then……

    plug-in prius is vaporware

    as is the Ford fusion hybrid……..even though it is only a few months away from production…….we should still call it vaporware….right……………………..right…..

    the insight too!!!


  • l3titan

    Volt, real winner there…bet everyone will rush out for the entry level Volt that starts at 40-45K.

    Yup real big family friendly car for the masses. Think I will get two or three, and ten sets of extra batteries at 20k a set. Dumb butts!

  • Bill Cosworth

    So toyota lost a lot on the prius.

    GM is trying to CARE

    making a car that is the future.

    Toyota will take all the hard american labor and technology and copy it.

  • Miss Mellie

    GM is trying to care? Are you kidding me? If they cared, they would’ve had the foresight and the business acumen to shift their car lines to what consumers needed after the oil embargo in 1973. Fact of the matter is this: American car companies missed the boat on building more fuel efficient cars. Period. Now they’re crying and some of them, well all except defunct Chrysler, are desperately trying to catch up to Toyota because consumers buy their cars.

    Furthermore, we’ve known since the 80’s that there were huge problems with our car industry. What have the big-three done – besides line their pockets and build huge, gas guzzling SUVs and trucks – to restructure themselves since then? Not a whole lot. Don’t blame this on someone else. All fingers point back to GM, Chrysler for their toxic, short-sighted leadership and management.


    “It’s clearly evident that GM doesn’t have a hybrid… program.”

    Hard to see how anything can be clearly evident when you have your eyes closed. GM has built mild hybrids for a few years now, and also builds and sells the Tahoe/Escalade hybrid. The latter has the 2-mode hybrid system developed by GM, Daimler-Chrysler and BMW, which is the most sophisticated hybrid system available in the world today. A Saturn Vue hybrid using the 2-mode system is to be released within months, as are hybrid pick-ups. As for a plug-in hybrid, that’s what the Volt is. It’s a serial hybrid rather than a parallel hybrid, but still a plug-in hybrid.

    The Fusion hybrid looks like a great car, but you can’t buy one today, so talking about it is all you can do. I don’t mind if you want to rag on GM, but a little less bias would be appreciated.

  • enemy of the people

    GM deserves help? On which planet do you actually live. If you answer the Planet Earth then you have simply not been paying attention.

    Ford is the only company deserving help and they should stand on their own or go down like any free-market enterprise that cannot compete.

    The article is current in reporting what the CEOs are going to show up in DC with. And the Malibu gets 2mpg more? You have real issues with reality.

    There is no excuse whatsoever for the carmakers to not be leading the way with high mileage vehicles. The “reason” they use is consumers want the big SUVs. That is true if they see nothing but ads about how virile it makes one or how you can drive over the polar ice cap in one.

    Frankly, after looking at the current Consumer Reports evaluations of GM I still see no reason to help keep such an enterprise alive.

    Now, if you don’t mind I will go out and drive my Honda Civic Hybrid down to the store for a bag of raisins I forgot on my way home. Ahhh, that would be the Hybrid Honda that gets 44MPG in town and over 53MPG on the highway.

    Yeah, that hybrid…

  • Pete in motown

    I am thinking that Chrysler should be disallowed from any loans. Look at the track record of the CEO, Robert Nardelli. As CEO of Home Depot, he stacked the board of directors and negotiated a parachute that brought him well over 250 Million Dollars as personal compensation just for vacating his office. I see nothing compelling about his record, past or present, illustrating anything that bodes success for Chrysler. Because of his self-serving attitudes I do not believe he is interested in the well being of anything other than himself. While I thank him for his military service and consider that to be an accomplishment (prior to his professional career) I would not want him to be a benefactor of my tax dollars in any way.

    I realize that he is not well compensated at present and can only make out well if Chrysler does well, but I think that his record speaks for itself.


  • Anonymous

    Having read the previous comments, I have seen many loose and uninformed generalizations. Concerning the American manufacturers, the context of their domestic market mattrers. Europe, Japan, and Korea as well as the Scandinavian countries do not have the same amount of wide open highway that we have, and they have wisely invested in vastly superior mass transit facilities, compared to anything available in most area of this country. The result is that a smaller percentage of their car market needs to be considered for long-distance commuting than in this country. Add to that the fact that every time the cost of gasoline decreases, the demand for muscular performance increases, and vice versa. While I am an admirer of hybrid technology, I am not deaf to the stories of my Prius and Civic Hybrid owning friends with their experiences of having their cars go dead in local intersections as well as in more distant points, the latter requiring lengthy tows back to the urban centers where their cars were purchased, and the huge cost of replacing the hybrid battery long before the 100,000 mile mark stated as an expectation of those battery lifes. And I am also an admirer of some of the outstanding chassis engineering and suspension geometries on the best American cars such as the Ford Fusion, esp. the AWD model, the Pontiac G8 (Aussie GM Holden), the Saturn Aura, and the Cadillac CTS, STS, and SRX. So, I think that there are some great engineering assets at stake, in addition to the far-reaching social and financial impacts, of allowing American car manufacturers to disappear. Their mistakes are much remarked, but their successes rarely mentioned.

  • geo NH

    Quote: “There is no excuse whatsoever for the carmakers to not be leading the way with high mileage vehicles. The “reason” they use is consumers want the big SUVs. That is true if they see nothing but ads about how virile it makes one or how you can drive over the polar ice cap in one.”

    Perfect! They advertise SUV wasteful vehicles b/c they stupidly make them, and then put special low interest financing with them, BECAUSE they realize they made mistake and must move them out – sell to unknowing gullible consumers.

    Time to allow production of the features the engineers are very capable of designing! Management has held them back. They are all in bed: tires, fuel, car companies. The MORE philosophy.

    Didn’t we all who are a little observant, see all this crap 10, 20, 30 years ago?

  • AP

    geo NH, everyone old enough to remember knows that we’ve been here before. We (as in consumers) said, “we’re not going to let that happen again.” Our conservation in the early 1980’s left OPEC selling only 1/2 the oil they could produce.

    With the resulting cheap oil, people started buying trucks, because CAFE was less stringent for them, and people could get more equipment, etc. on them. Soon, the SUV became mainstream, thanks to CAFE. The imports, who didn’t have them on the shelf for their home market, even went whole hog into it.

    Detroit’s marketing must be better than I thought if they could convince Toyota, Nissan, and BMW to sell these vehicles that “nobody wants!” Face it, when gas is cheap, most US customers don’t care about conserving it.

    Congress (not any automaker) created the SUV market with cheap gas and stricter mileage standards on cars. That’s the problem with CAFE, and making it tighter on trucks just makes trucks that are worthless for farming and construction. We need a higher fuel tax – not stricter CAFE.

    So don’t blame the domestics for “forcing” you to buy them by supposedly brainwashing people. What are you, sheep?

  • Bill cosworth

    Volt Races Prius in washington

    Volt wins!!

  • Miss Mellie

    Wow, I’m so impressed at your ability to hate Toyota, Bill. Does it know no bounds?

    Here’s a couple of honest questions for you on your beloved “hybrid”:

    1. Where’s the infrastructure going to come from for you and your fellow Volt lovers to plug in on a family road trip? Do you honestly think the Howard Johnson is going to let you charge up your car for free whilest you sleep? I hope you plan on carrying an extension cord in your trunk. Yes, yes, I know about the “gas tank” on the vehicle and, speaking of which…

    2. In regards to the small onboard gas tank, are you, as a responsible owner, going to make sure that the gasoline is used in a timely manner before it goes stale? If you inadvertently forget to drain the tank and the gas goes bad, are you, as a responsible owner, going to dispose of the gas properly?

    3. Oh and by the way, where do you think the electricity you’re “fueling” up your Volt comes from? Do you know or even care?

  • Rickw

    I hope that if congress approves bailouts for any of the companies, that they also mandate that all executives and board members for those companies are fired (with the customary– for workers at least– 2 month’s severance pay). After all, its those executives and board members that are responsible for the mess those companies are in.

  • Bryce

    mellie, your first and second points don’t exactly go together. If a Volt, for example, but any electric car really, can’t be charged then why, as suggested by your second notion…..would the gas go stale. In an environment where electric charging were either not cost effective or not feasible at all, wouldn’t this gas have been spent…….just though that was funny.

    However, your third point is a viable and reasonable question.

    Depending on where you are from, your energy can come from varying sources. In the south for instance, it is likely to come largely from Coal, maybe a little hydroelectric and nuclear. In the west and northeast, it is more likely to come from natural gas, nuclear, and hydroelectric. (growing ammounts of wind and solar as well…..o, and texas too….lots of wind there) Given, where the Volt will be primarilly offered, (west coast, northeast, and maybe a few other high population areas) I believe we can safely say the electricity generated for our Volts (and mine… a California resident) would be in bulk from natural gas, followed by nuclear and hydroelectric with increasing ammounts of solar and wind. Of course it would vary in other countries, and I cannot accurately answer to you what their sources of energy are, (the Volt will be a global vehicle, much the likee the Cruze to be sold in all markets that GM is active in) atleast not off the top of my head, but either way the efficiencies, in cost effectiveness to the consumer, atleast in price of fuel, and in ammount of pollution per consumer are better for an electric than your run of the mill ICE driven auto.

    I hope that answers that a little.

  • owldog

    If most of the energy lost in the internal combustion engine is in the form of heat, why not make a “hybrid” that also scavenges heat from exhaust manifolds, etc. to power a steam engine to drive an alternator that generates electricity?

  • Cocoa

    i am really impressed by the measures that ford has made. in my family we have only owned one ford; and it was not very good. my last 4 cars have been from japan, & they were great. if ford continues its work in making better cars that are more efficient, then i would consider buying one. & that says a lot!! i do love my prius very much. it is everything that i have ever hoped for .. still looking & doing well after 3 yrs. but i do love my country- & i would do all that i can to help save jobs for americans & their livelihoods.
    gm has been the choice of my family. but their half hearted attempts have done nothing to show me that they are truly willing to help save themselves. i am truly sorry for the american auto industry. instead of being great leaders & inventors, they are now mere reminders of yesteryear….only to be forgotten.

  • cocoa

    i belong to a toyota prius forum. not sure about what u are talking about as i have only heard of one case of a battery going bad before its time. (this was from the earliest models) batteries going bad are so few that they are almost unheard of. to be honest- the industry does not know how long these batteries will last. there is a taxi cab owner in canada that has driven his cars over 200k miles. in the forum we talk of our problems & solutions & toyota seems to be watching & listening. most prius & civic hybrid owners LOVE their cars. in the production of anything, there can be a lemon. look at how many american lemons have been made!! i dont meant to discount our wonderful american technology, but toyota & honda have been doing it right & i hope that our american auto industry can learn from them…..just as japan learned from us.
    but if i did have my prius battery run out on me…toyota will absorb the expense of the tow & the battery replacement for 8 yrs or 100,000 miles. thats their guarantee and it works for me.

  • Paras Kalra

    i say electric vehicles are epic fails. they don’t pollute, but their battery only lasts to give you about 80 miles and then they take hours and hours to drive. i think hydrogen powered with a fuel cell generating energy to the electric motor is the way to go. u fill it up with hydrogen just like u fill a normal car up with petrol and the hydrogen in the fuel cell is mixed with the oxygen in the air so the only exhaust is water. And the total mileage on a full tank is the same as a normal petrol car.