Private jets

PRIVATE JETS…. Alan Mulally, CEO of Ford, understands the importance of symbolic gestures and public relations. Yesterday, for example, when he arrived on Capitol Hill, hat in hand, hoping to convince lawmakers to help bail out American auto manufacturers, he arrived in a new Ford Fusion Hybrid. Ford’s media team, of course, made sure reporters knew about this.

The goal wasn’t necessarily to impress members of Congress, who wouldn’t see Mulally’s arrival; it was for our benefit. Showing up in a hybrid was supposed to convey to all of us that Ford is thinking ahead and taking innovation seriously.

If only Ford’s p.r. team had thought about the other leg of the trip. How one gets to the Hill from the hotel isn’t quite as interesting as how one gets from home to D.C.

The CEOs of the big three automakers flew to the nation’s capital yesterday in private luxurious jets to make their case to Washington that the auto industry is running out of cash and needs $25 billion in taxpayer money to avoid bankruptcy.

The CEOs of GM, Ford and Chrysler may have told Congress that they will likely go out of business without a bailout yet that has not stopped them from traveling in style, not even First Class is good enough.

All three CEOs — Rick Wagoner of GM, Alan Mulally of Ford, and Robert Nardelli of Chrysler — exercised their perks Tuesday by flying in corporate jets to DC. Wagoner flew in GM’s $36 million luxury aircraft to tell members of Congress that the company is burning through cash, asking for $10-12 billion for GM alone.

GM’s Wagoner parked his G4 private jet at a nearby airport. It’s one of a fleet of GM-owned luxury jets used to ferry executives around the world. Ford’s Mulally has access to a jet as part of his $28 million employment contract; it’s one of eight private jets Ford owns for its executives.

If these guys had flown commercial first-class, while their companies are teetering on the brink, it would have been embarrassing. But company-owned private jets?

I’ve seen some persuasive arguments, most notably from Jonathan Cohn, on government intervention to rescue the auto industry. But a) these CEOs aren’t helping; and b) they’ll probably have to be replaced as part of any rescue plan.