Although he has put off a meeting with Detroit automotive leaders until after the November elections, US President George W. Bush called the chairman of Ford Motor Co on Friday, only days after the struggling automaker named a new chief executive.
The phone call came the same day that Ford disclosed details of its employment agreement with the new chief, Alan Mulally, the former Boeing Co executive whose appointment was announced this week.
Ford said Mulally would receive a salary of US$2 million a year, plus a US$7.5 million signing bonus. He will also receive US$11 million to offset performance awards and stock options that he forfeited by leaving Boeing, where he was chief executive of the commercial airplanes business.
Bush's phone call to the Ford chairman, William Clay Ford Jr, came as Bush flew to the Detroit area, where he attended a fundraising event north of Detroit for Mike Bouchard, the Republican candidate for the US Senate. Bouchard is challenging Senator Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat who is completing her first term.
During the call to Ford, Bush discussed the changes taking place at Ford, which is struggling to hang on to second place in the US car market. As soon as next week, Ford will announce new steps under its restructuring plan, called the Way Forward, which are expected to include more plant closings, job cuts, and buyout offers. Ford's directors are scheduled to meet on Thursday to consider the moves.
White House officials said Bush phoned Ford because the two are friends. Ford contributed US$2,000 to Bush's re-election campaign in 2003, federal election records show, but has supported both Democrats and Republicans in other races.
Bush, on the call, reiterated that a long-sought meeting with leaders of the three Detroit auto companies would take place after the elections. Bush does not want the meeting to become "mired in politics," said a White House spokeswoman, Dana Perino.
A Ford spokesman declined to discuss the nature of the conversation but the subjects were summarized in a report from the White House.
Bush was originally set to meet with Detroit automotive leaders, including Ford, in May. The session, at which the executives hoped to discuss issues like the environment, was delayed twice more since then.
The White House said the cancellations were not meant as disrespectful, but the cancelations drew criticism from both Michigan's Democratic governor, Jennifer Granholm, and the state's Republican gubernatorial candidate.