Are Detroit’s Auto Execs Still Paid Too Much?

The Detroit Free Press releases the CEO salaries of Ford, GM, and Chrysler.

It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment when the American public called shenanigans on the auto industry. But it’s easy to remember November 2008, when executives from Ford, GM, and Chrysler went to Washington D.C. and groused in front of lawmakers for $25 billion in capital. Taxpayers didn’t react well when word that the Big Three brass departed in private jets hit Fox and CNN. Yeah. That probably just about did it.

Ex-General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner expressing the feelings of a nation during Senate hearings on the auto industry in December, 2008. , Chip Somodevilla/Getty

Almost a decade on, the automotive landscape Detroit is different. New faces, new ideas. American vehicles now are, generally speaking, smarter and more competitive. Still, those jets. We’ll be debating the bailout for as long as cars are a thing, and probably after. But, if nothing else, it gave us the invaluable gift of vigilance and a watchful eye. So when The Detroit Free Press publishes the Big Three executive salaries, as it did on Friday, everybody’s ears perk up.

The basics: GM’s CEO Mary Barra comes in at $28.6 million, Ford’s Mark Fields at $18.6, and Fiat-Chrysler’s Sergio Marchionne at $73.6 million. What’s interesting is how its accrued. On salary alone, Barra and Fields both get $1.75 million, and Marchionne brings home $4 million. But the vast majority of each CEO’s pay is in stock and option awards: 77 percent, 65 percent, and 85 percent, respectively. That means it isn’t immediately liquidatable and is (ostensibly) tethered to the future success of the company. Neither Barra or Fields receive a penny in annual bonuses, while Marchionne, who heads up the entire Fiat Group, got a $6.85 million booster.

Current Ford CEO Mark Fields with the new aluminum-bodied F-150 pickup, the company's best-selling and most profitable model. , Jeff Kowalsky/Bloomberg/Getty

Those sums are probably a little light, since money deferred and incentives may go unaccounted for. They’re also absurd, but this is CEO pay we’re talking about, so all things are relative. (Don’t hate the player, etc.) It puts Barra and Fields mid-pack, earning similarly to counterparts at other large companies. Marchionne’s higher, in the upper one-third, along with the heads of media and pharmaceutical companies.

What do you think? Are those salaries fair? Is running GM or Ford easier than Xerox or Starbucks? More difficult? Comment box is below.

The Detroit Free Press’ full breakdown of Big Three executive income, available here, is well worth reading.