Word leaking out of Washington D.C. is that the Obama administration is moving towards naming a car czar. Or maybe not.
It appears that the big sales drop in January, which once again left General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC perilously close to insolvency, put some new energy behind the search and appointment of the panel set to pick someone to oversee the loan program for the domestic auto industry – an arrangement that requires GM and Chrysler to prove their long-term viability before getting additional cash.
Right now the authority for distributing any more loans to the ailing carmakers is in the hands of some holdovers from the Bush Administration. At the same time, suppliers, who are facing financial disaster, and car dealers also are seeking a share of the federal aid being doled out by the Treasury Department.
The concept of an automotive commissar might seem to run counter to the free-market and even libertarian leanings of most Big Three executives. But it is actually being quietly hailed around the Motor City, which has seen its political influence in Washington D.C. steadily decline over the last two decades. American car guys are now despised by both the Democratic environmentalists who believe they threaten the planet and by Republican conservatives, who somehow have gotten it into their heads that Detroit still belongs to the French.
“I actually look forward to having a federal car czar,” said GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz, in an interview with TheDetroitBureau.com, “because we’ve never had a point person in the administration to have a decent conversation with. There’s been no one with the concerns of the car companies at heart. If the czar diligently reports back (to Washington), this may lead to a sounder energy and transportation policy in the future.