Ford CEO pressed to explain anti-bailout ad

DETROIT Fri Sep 30, 2011 4:48pm EDT

Ford Motor Co. President and CEO Alan Mulally gives an interview in Bangkok September 29, 2011. REUTERS/Sukree Sukplang

Ford Motor Co. President and CEO Alan Mulally gives an interview in Bangkok September 29, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Sukree Sukplang

DETROIT (Reuters) - The Republican chairman of a congressional oversight panel has asked Ford Motor Co (F.N) to explain why it pulled a TV commercial critical of the Obama administration's auto bailout.

In a letter sent on Thursday, Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, asked Ford Chief Executive Alan Mulally whether the White House or the United Auto Workers union had talked to Ford about the ad.

In the commercial, a Ford owner says he bought an F-Series pickup truck because Ford was the only U.S. automaker not to have taken a federal bailout.

A spokesman for the Obama administration denied that the White House put any pressure on Ford.

The Ford commercial was the first time an automaker had made the message part of a national ad campaign.

The ad is part of Ford's "Drive One" campaign to win over consumers from other brands. In it, a Ford owner, identified only as Chris, says, "I wasn't going to buy another car that was bailed out by our government. I was going to buy from a manufacturer that's standing on their own: win, lose, or draw."

In 2009, after General Motors (GM.N) and Chrysler FIA.MI accepted the federal bailout, both companies scored near the bottom of Harris Interactive's Corporation Reputation survey. In the same survey, Ford's reputation scored the largest single-year improvement in nine years.

Ford briefly broadcast the ad on U.S. television earlier this month. It was reportedly pulled from the automaker's YouTube page when it was mentioned in media reports, but later restored.

"There was no pressure from the White House or the administration regarding our ad," said a Ford spokeswoman Meghan Keck. She said that Ford would "cooperate fully" with Issa.

Detroit News columnist Daniel Howes reported earlier this week that the Obama administration had told Ford it was unhappy about the commercial. Issa cited that column in his letter to Mulally.

"Given the close relationship between American automobile manufacturers, workers unions and the U.S. government in the wake of a series of loans, grants and stimulus programs, accusations of White House interference in private business matters to support its own political and policy agendas are very serious issues and warrant a full airing of facts," Issa said in his letter to Mulally.

Ford's rivals General Motors and Chrysler were restructured in bankruptcy with taxpayer funding, a bailout that remains controversial.

While Ford avoided the federally funded restructuring that remade GM and Chrysler, the No. 2 U.S. automaker did receive a subsidized $5.9 billion loan from the U.S. Energy Department that helped reduce borrowing costs.

The White House has estimated that taxpayers could lose about $14 billion of the more than $80 billion in funding given to the U.S. auto industry in 2008 and 2009. Officials have argued that the bailout saved the industry from collapse and protected up to 1 million jobs.

Mulally joined GM and Chrysler chief executives in lobbying Congress for funding for the auto industry in late 2008.

(Reporting by Bernie Woodall; Editing by Gary Hill)

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