Feb. 6 (Bloomberg) -- Clint Eastwood, whose “Gran Torino” film focused on the heroics of a retired Detroit auto worker, returned to that theme in a two-minute Super Bowl commercial for Chrysler Group LLC last night, heralding the city’s recovery.
“It’s halftime in America, too,” Eastwood, 81, said in a two-minute spot just before the New England Patriots and New York Giants emerged from their locker rooms to start the second half of last night’s game, the year’s most-watched U.S. television event. “People are out of work and they’re hurting. And they’re all wondering what they’re going to do to make a comeback.”
Answers can come from the people of Detroit, Eastwood said. Wracked by the 2007-2009 recession and collapse of U.S. auto sales that sent the former Chrysler LLC and General Motors Corp. into bankruptcy, the region’s jobless rate reached as high as 16.6 percent in July 2009. Now it’s 9.7 percent.
“The people of Detroit know a little something about this,” said Eastwood, who was mayor of Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, from 1986 to 1988. “They almost lost everything. But we all pulled together, now Motor City is fighting again.”
The views Eastwood expressed were his own and the undisclosed fee he received for making them is being donated to charity, Chrysler Chief Executive Officer Sergio Marchionne said today.
The graveled voice that uttered some of Hollywood’s most memorable lines, including “Make my day,” in more than five decades as an actor, director and producer paid tribute to the U.S. industry’s comeback.
General Motors Co. has regained its spot as the world’s largest automaker, car companies are hiring and Michigan had the second-best performance on the Bloomberg Economic Evaluation of States in the third quarter. Only oil-producing North Dakota had a bigger gain. The U.S. government has exited a stake it acquired in Auburn Hills, Michigan-based Chrysler during the bankruptcy process, and Italy’s Fiat SpA today shares ownership with a United Auto Workers health-care trust.
“He felt really deeply everything he said,” Marchionne, who is also Fiat’s CEO, said today an interview on WJR-AM, a Detroit radio station. “I’ve spoken with him. There was not a single doubt in my mind that when he spoke on the commercial he was expressing his views.”
In November, Eastwood told the Los Angeles Times’s 24 Frames blog that he opposed rescuing the auto companies. “We shouldn’t be bailing out the banks and car companies,” he said. “If a CEO can’t figure out how to make his company profitable, then he shouldn’t be the CEO.”
Eastwood said in an interview with Fox News today that he is not affiliated with Obama.
“It was meant to be a message about job growth and the spirit of America,” he is quoted as saying. “I think all politicians will agree with it.”
The spot may have special resonance in an election year where the economy and job growth are key themes of Republican criticisms of President Barack Obama.
“If it wasn’t for the bailout packages, Chrysler and GM would probably not be around,” Jesse Toprak, a Santa Monica, California-based analyst at TrueCar.com, said in an interview. “Now they’re adding capacity to plants, adding more production, and the best-case scenario has come to fruition. This was a commercial to remind people what has happened.”
Marchionne said the ad “has zero political content.”
“It was not intended to be any type of a political overture on our part,” Marchionne said. “Nobody inside Chrysler was attempting to influence decisions. The message is sufficiently universal and neutral that it should be appealing to everybody in this country and I sincerely hope that it doesn’t get utilized as political fodder in a debate.”
While the president’s lieutenants praised the ad on Twitter, Jay Carney, a spokesman for the president, said today that neither Obama nor his administration had any involvement in the spot’s creation.
“Saving the America Auto Industry: Something Eminem and Clint Eastwood can agree on,” Dan Pfeiffer, the White House communications director, said in a post on Twitter, referring to Chrysler’s ad with the rap-music star in last year’s Super Bowl. “Powerful spot,” David Axelrod, Obama’s chief political strategist, said on Twitter.
Karl Rove, a Republican political strategist, said he was “offended” by Chrysler’s commercial.
“It’s a sign of what happens when you have Chicago-style politics,” Rove said today on Fox News Channel, for which he has served as a political analyst. “The president of the United States and his political minions are, in essence, using our tax dollars to buy corporate advertising and the best wishes of the management which is benefited by getting a bunch of money that they’ll never pay back.”
Dianna Gutierrez, a Chrysler spokeswoman, declined a request to respond to Rove’s comments.
By exercising options at a cost of $1.97 billion and meeting certain performance milestones, Fiat boosted its ownership stake in Chrysler to 58.5 percent in January. The U.S. government has said it recovered $11.1 billion of $12.4 billion given to Chrysler under the bailout.
Chrysler continues to seek low-interest loans from the U.S. Energy Department to develop and produce fuel-efficient cars. The company sought $3.5 billion in such loans last year, and that amount has been reduced, Marchionne said.
“I’m not ready to give up,” Marchionne told reporters Feb. 4 at the National Automobile Dealers Association convention in Las Vegas. “The department has not indicated an unwillingness to lend.”
Ener1 Inc., the maker of batteries for electric cars whose subsidiary received a $118 million Energy Department grant to make electric-car batteries, last month filed for bankruptcy protection after defaulting on bond debt amid Asian competition. Ener1’s bankruptcy follows the failure of at least two U.S. government-backed renewable energy companies, solar panel maker Solyndra LLC and energy storage company Beacon Power Corp.
Chrysler’s Super Bowl ad ran for 2 minutes of the most expensive television advertising time of the year, during the National Football League championship game that the Giants won 21-17. The average cost of a 30-second spot was $3.5 million.
Chrysler’s commercial edged out Honda Motor Co.’s spot that used actor Matthew Broderick to promote the CR-V crossover as the top-scoring automotive ad as measured by Ace Metrix, a Mountain View, California-based company that rates video advertising.
“It really struck a chord,” Peter Daboll, chief executive officer of Mountain View, California-based Ace Metrix, said in a phone interview. Chrysler’s ad scored 633 out of 950 on Ace Metrix’s scale, which is based on likeability, brand identification, preference, relevance and persuasion, he said.
Chrysler convinced Eastwood, who filmed the 2008 release “Gran Torino” in Detroit, to make a rare advertising appearance because he believed in the message, Marchionne said, adding that Eastwood never uttered the word “Chrysler” in the spot.
“Clint was sufficiently, was so generous in his approach to this that any money that we’re paying him is going to go to charity,” Marchionne said. “This was not done for financial reasons.”
The ad’s only references to Chrysler came from a few images of cars and trucks, shots of SUVs being built at a Detroit factory and the company’s brand logos in the closing shot. The automaker ran a similar ad during last year’s Super Bowl, using music and an appearance from hometown rapper Eminem that focused more squarely on the city of Detroit itself and the Chrysler 200 sedan.
This year’s TV spot is being augmented by a 4-page ad that wrapped around the outside of Gannett Co.’s USA Today that summarizes the spot, said Gutierrez, the Chrysler spokeswoman.
“It’s Monday morning,” reads the newspaper ad, which contains still images from the TV spot. “Today, Americans will get up and go to work. And so we’ll go to work. The people of this nation will think about what they can do today to make themselves better. And that will be our aim as well.”
The ad ran only in USA Today, Gutierrez said.
“They were trying to tap into an emotional theme” of surviving hardship, Jeremy Anwyl, vice chairman of auto researcher Edmunds.com in Santa Monica, California, said in an interview after the game. “This one sounded like an Obama re-election campaign.”
The closest Eastwood came to addressing the political environment was in describing “the fog of division, discord and blame.” America will have to find its way through the tough times, he said.
“Detroit’s showing us it can be done,” he said. “This country can’t be knocked out with one punch. We get right back up again and when we do, the world is going to hear the roar of our engines.”
“Yeah, it’s halftime, America,” Eastwood said. “And our second half is about to begin.”
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