Driven to the brink

May 15, 2009

fritz1In Detroit, it is a fact of life that you are what you drive.

GM and Chrysler have staked their future — and some $20 billion of taxpayer-backed loans — on the idea that they can reinvent themselves as lean, green and mean manufacturers of small and fuel-efficient cars and electric-drive vehicles.

That’s a vision that resonates with the Obama administration, which has announced an ambitious target of putting 1 million plug-in hybrid cars like the much-touted Chevy Volt on the road by 2010.

But some of Detroit’s highest-profile auto executives are still driving like its 1999. Their rides still harken back to the era when they were the kings of the road.

GM sales chief Mark LaNeve called in from the road on Friday to brief reporters on the automaker’s plans to cut dealerships.

LaNeve said he used OnStar’s hands-free dialing to join the conference call from the cockpit of a luxury Cadillac Escalade SUV.

“The Slade”, as it has become known, gets 12 miles per gallon in the city. Sales are down over 45 percent this year.

GM Chief Executive Fritz Henderson said this week that his family fleet includes a Saab 9-3 convertible for his wife, a Corvette, a Camaro and a Malibu, which his daughter drives.

Henderson’s “baby,” he said, was the Corvette, which first hit the streets more than half a century ago. The muscle car’s mileage? 16 miles per gallon city. Sales? Down 55 percent.

Across town, Chrysler Chief Executive Bob Nardelli was spotted being chauffeur-driven in a Chrysler 300 sedan to the automaker’s Auburn Hills headquarters from an upscale suburban Detroit hotel.

The car is a faded hit for Chrysler, known for it egg-crate grill, muscular styling and powerful engine. Not known so much for its green cred. City mileage? 19 miles per gallon.

Nardelli, who is expected to leave Chrysler in the next few weeks, should take note: President Obama sold his 300C with the 5.7-liter engine shortly after he began his run for the White House.

3 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

Someone should by now have figured out that 1 million electric cars won’t affect in any detectable fashion, either this country’s oil demand or carbon emissions.
Even in the unlikely event that another million gas burning cars aren’t on the road by then, the effect would be an insignificant 1/5th of 1 percent reduction in oil demand, and much less than that in carbon emissions, probably less that 1/50th of 1 percent. Not much return for $7 billion dollars of taxpayer money. And they say Obama is not a stupid as he appears.

Posted by kerry bradshaw | Report as abusive

The problem is the top management of those carmakers. The mission is to make fuel efficient cars but the decision makers still live in another era and are not motivated to make the green product. You need to believe in what you’re doing if you want to succeed.


Considering the fantasy they’ve been living in for decades, maybe the perfect vehicle might be chitty chitty bang bang…or the yellow submarine.

Posted by Brian Foulkrod | Report as abusive

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