Auto Execs Starting to Get It?

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Bad PR works wonders, apparently. Just two weeks after incurring public wrath for flying private jets to Washington in order to beg for bailout money, Detroit’s top dogs are returning this week (driving hybrid cars to get here) with a plan to make amends:

Ford Motor Co. Chief Executive Alan Mulally plans to tell Congress he is accelerating his company’s development of hybrid and electric vehicles and is willing to cut his salary to $1 a year if Ford uses any federal funds.

General Motors Corp. is expected to focus on efforts to lighten the company’s heavy debt load and consolidate or sell at least one of its eight automotive brands, most likely Saab, people familiar with the matter said. GM CEO Rick Wagoner also will take a $1 salary, those people said….

In a phone interview Monday, Mr. Mulally said Ford will explain to Congress it is rushing to launch new hybrids and electric vehicles by 2011, including a battery-powered commercial van and compact sedan. A plug-in electric vehicle that can be recharged from a standard electrical outlet should follow in 2012, he said.

In a separate interview, Ford Chairman William Ford Jr. said the company is looking beyond survival to opportunity. “We want to come blasting out as a global, green, high-tech company that’s exactly where the country and the Obama administration want us to head,” he said.

There is serious reason to doubt Bill Ford on this issue — he has long talked a good game on environmental matters while his company continued to mass produce gas-guzzling over-sized vehicles. At this point, though, reality appears to have finally penetrated the auto executives’ thick skulls. No more private jets, no more massive salaries, no more ignoring the market for hybrids, and hopefully, no more business plans that produce SUVs and little else.

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