Ford CEO Drives Agenda to D.C.

Posted January 26, 2010 at 6:22pm

Ford Motor Co. President Alan Mulally took a quick victory lap around the nation’s capital on Tuesday, appearing at the 2010 Washington Auto Show and rolling out the automaker’s legislative wish list for the remainder of the year.

The company’s top executive did not visit Capitol Hill during his brief visit to town, although he did speak with House Energy and Commerce Chairman Emeritus John Dingell (D-Mich.), who attended a speech by the auto executive.

Dingell’s Michigan district is home to Henry Ford’s eponymous carmaker.

In his remarks, Mulally said trade issues, environmental proposals and infrastructure upgrades continue to be the top legislative priorities for his company, which has been greeted as a hero by lawmakers for not putting them in a tight political spot last year like General Motors Corp. and the Chrysler Group, which showed up broke on Congress’ doorstep demanding a taxpayer-funded bailout.

“We’re working on energy independence and energy security going forward, but we’re also working on the trade rules so that we can work on a level playing field around the world,— Mulally said, later telling reporters that “the data says our brand reputation is moving up at the highest rate that many people have ever seen.—

Mulally also said his company supports a proposal to raise revenue for the cash-strapped federal government by taxing gasoline purchases.

“That is one item that could be used in a comprehensive energy policy,— he said. “We’ve adopted a point of view that we all are going to pay more for energy going forward because there is a fundamental mismatch between demand worldwide and capacity.—

Ford is also pushing for upgrades to the nation’s electrical grid, improvements that Mulally said will make possible his company’s eventual all-electric automotive offerings.

“There’s certainly a very compelling future for all-electric,— he said. “The key to all-electric is technology, especially the battery. But the other key enabler is the infrastructure that allows you to get the electricity to the car and also to generate the electricity clean.—

Mulally was tight-lipped later in the day regarding whether his company would capitalize on a recent Supreme Court decision allowing corporations to spend unlimited amounts on political ads.

“Working together always works,— he said.

Following Mulally’s speech, Dingell said lawmakers are continuing to explore legislative remedies for the still-struggling domestic automobile industry. Dingell said it’s unlikely Congress could pass another subsidy similar to 2009’s Cash for Clunkers, but “it’s always possible for things to come up,— he said.

Dingell also said that protectionist trade barriers in Asia and elsewhere in the world continue to hinder carmakers.

“We’re getting screwed in the world marketplace by the behavior of our competitors, by currency manipulation, market closures, tariffs and nontariff barriers and all those things are very, very hurtful to the people that I serve,— Dingell said. “Getting them corrected has been a lifetime concern of mine.—

A Senate aide said privately on Tuesday that there is little possibility that lawmakers will pass legislation this year at the direct behest of Ford or other domestic producers.

“There’s not a huge amount of money out there,— the staffer said.

While in town, Mulally also apparently played local car dealer with Dingell and his wife, Debbie, a former GM executive. Following Mulally’s speech, Debbie Dingell said she’s eyeing a new Ford-made Mercury model.

“I’ve picked out my new car — it’s a Mariner,— Dingell said, adding that the Dingell family drives General Motors-made vehicles while in Washington, D.C., and Fords while in her husband’s district.

Debbie Dingell retired from GM in August after more than 30 years at the company. Originally a lobbyist, she stepped down from that post in 1981 after marrying the Member, an ardent champion of the domestic auto industry during his 28 terms.

A recent Washington Post article scrutinized the sometimes-close relationship between the Dingells and GM, allegations that Debbie Dingell refuted Tuesday on the floor of the Washington Convention Center.

“There’s a double-standard,— said Dingell, who now works for the American Automotive Policy Council, a new domestic automotive coalition backed by Ford, GM and the Chrysler Group. “It begs the question: If you get married, is the woman allowed to have a career?—