Contrite auto execs say they'll drive back to Detroit, too

WASHINGTON — The Big Three auto executives Thursday were clear: They weren't going to drive lawmakers crazy by appearing insensitive. They were just going to drive.

A month ago, the officials flew to Washington in corporate jets, cementing an image that would dog them for weeks and hurt their efforts to get $34 billion in federal aid.

So this week, Richard Wagoner of General Motors, Alan Mulally of Ford and Robert Nardelli of Chrysler drove from Detroit to Washington in cars their companies build for a second round of hearings. What those drives were like — it's nine hours from Detroit to Washington — was one topic of interest before the Senate Banking Committee.

Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., the committee's top Republican, popped the big questions: "Did you drive or did you have a driver? Did you drive a little and ride a little? And secondly, I guess, are you going to drive back?"

Chairman Chris Dodd, D-Conn., tried to lighten the mood. "Where'd you stay?" he asked. "What did you eat?"

But this was serious business.

Yes, they were driving back. Mulally explained how he "carpooled" and "drove." "I'm driving back," he said.

Wagoner said he and a colleague split the driving 50-50.

"We drove down yesterday," he said, "and I'm going to drive myself back Friday or Saturday."

End of controversy. The rest of the hearing dealt with stuff like money and business plans.