The Detroit Three’s slow trip back to Washington

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Alan Mullaly will be driving in a Ford Escape hybrid. Rick Wagoner will travel in a Chevy Malibu hybrid. Bob Nardelli hasn’t figured out how he’ll get there yet, but taking a private jet is out of the question. It’s not quite carpooling in a minivan, as I suggested they do a couple weeks ago, but it’s close enough.

It’s mostly silly symbolism, of course, but as the Detroit Three automakers also submit plans to Congress outlining how they plan to bring themselves back from the brink, there is some real meaning as well. Ford, which turned in its plan first, isn’t in immediate need of government aid, so it focused on good vibes stuff like how it’s going to build more fuel-efficient vehicles. That, and Mullaly says his paycheck goes to $1 a year if Ford takes any government money. The GM and Chrysler proposals will presumably look more like the bankruptcy-by-some-other-name that I and lots of other people have been talking about, with spending cuts, debt-for-equity swaps, and of course $1 CEO paychecks.

Whether it will be enough is anybody’s guess. Former Medtronic CEO Bill George proposes at today that GM should split off Chevy, Cadillac and Buick into a new company and liquidate the rest, while Alex Taylor has a discouraging look back at three decades of (mostly failed) GM efforts at reinvention in the new Fortune. But the new plans will be a big improvement over where things stood a couple of weeks ago. Congress, by failing to act, has forced some seemingly constructive action on the part of Detroit.

Of course, if one of these guys crashes and gets badly hurt on the drive to Washington (driving is a lot more dangerous than flying), I take it all back.

Update: More on GM’s restructuring plan here.

Update 2: My colleague Bill Saporito wants them to get back in their corporate jets.