Sunday, December 6, 2009

Car maker calls for release of Aung San Suu Kyi

A major car manufacturer has aired a hard-hitting advert in the United States calling for the release of Burmese pro-democracy figure Aung San Suu Kyi, opening a new front in the battle to improve the industry's battered social image among the public.

The Chrysler advert, aired Thursday on several national TV networks, is a bold move from an industry struggling to regain widespread public support after a difficult year of bankruptcies and bailouts. Suu Kyi is the democratically elected leader of Burma but has been held under house arrest by the Burmese military junta for almost 14 of the past 20 years.

"We produced the TV film in honor of all those who put their lives at stake in the hopes of making the world a better place," said Chrysler's president Oliver Francois. "For Chrysler, this is a chance to use our brand image to join with others in the fight for peace."

The movie features four former Nobel laureates stepping out of black Chrysler 300 vehicles at the recent summit of Nobel laureates in Berlin. The final vehicle, a white Chrysler, is empty, symbolizing the absence of Aung San Suu Kyi. Whilst the advert was originally aired in Europe by Chrysler's sister firm Lancia, this is the first time it has been shown in the United States. It also features Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, former Polish President Lech Walesa and Nelson Mandela.
Car manufacturers face an uphill struggle to regain the trust of the public following multimillion dollar bailouts from several governments earlier this year, without appearing cynical. In 2008, Lancia produced a car advert in which Richard Gere drove into Tibet, leaving his handprints in the snow. Despite declaring that the advert did "not promote technical values but human values," Lancia's parent company Fiat later apologized to China when the images appeared in the Chinese press.

Not one auto firm appeared in the Q3 2009 top ten brands published by Covalence, a Swiss firm that that tracks the ethical reputation of multinationals. The first major car brand to be ranked is BMW, appearing at number 25.

"Over the last years automobile manufacturers have communicated a lot about their initiatives to make greener cars," said Antoine Mach, co-founder and director of Covalence. "But they are weaker on the social front. Chrysler's recent announcement reflects a need to improve image in terms of social performance and human rights."

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