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Published: Thursday, 5/14/2009

A Jeep in the White House?

BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

Since February, Michelle Obama has been seen wearing a Jason Wu-designed inauguration gown, sporting a new bob hairstyle, and showing off a pair of toned upper arms.

With President Obama's administration helping Chrysler LLC negotiate its way out of bankruptcy, an auto writer for Forbes magazine has suggested that maybe it's time for the First Lady to be seen driving a Toledo-built Jeep Wrangler.

In "Michelle, Buy A Jeep," a column in the already released May 25 edition of Forbes, veteran auto writer Jerry Flint argues that there is no doubt Chrysler can survive.

But customers who fear buying "orphan" cars or trucks means the government will have to put added billions of dollars into Chrysler unless public confidence in the automaker is restored.

"How about it, Michelle? Get a Wrangler. The girls will love it," Mr. Flint wrote in his column.

"Drive it around Camp David. Any color, but you must pay for it yourself - no free gift. Get some pictures of you and the kids in the Jeep. Don't forget the dog. Buy a Jeep and they'll build a statue of you in Toledo."

Contacted yesterday in New York, Mr. Flint said the idea is slightly tongue-in-cheek, but has some merit.

"It was just a thought that if anything would help save Jeep or just help Jeep or Chrysler - and do a little more than Mr. Obama's speeches - it'd be if she'd just go out and bought one," said Mr. Flint, senior automotive editor for Forbes. "I just think it wouldn't hurt and it would be a lot of fun for her and the kids."

He said he hasn't heard from the White House on his suggestion, and doesn't expect to.

Contacted yesterday, a White House press office aide had no immediate comment to The Blade.

If the purchase was made, it wouldn't be the first Chrysler purchase by the Obamas. The President drove a Chrysler 300 auto from 2004 through 2007.

Chrysler spokesman Roger Benvenuti said he has not read Mr. Flint's column, but Chrysler would love to see the First Lady driving about in a Wrangler, which like its sister-car Jeep Liberty, is made at the Toledo Jeep Assembly complex.

"Absolutely we think it's a great idea, but we'd like to see everybody in a Jeep," Mr. Benvenuti said.

Dan Henneman, chairman of the Jeep unit of United Auto Workers Local 12 in Toledo, said the image of Michelle Obama, daughters Sasha and Malia, and first dog Bo riding in a Wrangler would be helpful.

"But then, how do we know the Obamas don't already own a Jeep?" Mr. Henneman said with a laugh. "Seriously, absolutely it's a great idea, but I'd be glad to see Michelle Obama, the governor, our senators, or anybody else who'd want to buy one own a Jeep."

The government can use new vehicles for the National Park Service, and Jeeps would be perfect if it was upgrading its fleet, the union chief said.

U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) said why stop at a Jeep for Michelle Obama.

"Hopefully, the President would think about buying several of them for the White House lineup and put them in the fleet for the executive branch," she said. "You couldn't buy a vehicle with more good will and greater name recognition in the world than Jeep."

The congressman has been quietly suggesting to federal agencies that they consider buying Jeeps for their fleets when they replace vehicles, a spokesman said.

Contact Jon Chavez at:

jchavez@theblade.com

or 419-724-6128.



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