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DETROIT (Reuters) - Ford Motor Co. Chief Executive Alan Mulally is no longer laughing about his suggestion that he saved President Bush's life during a recent White House visit.
The No. 2 U.S. automaker has apologised after Mulally said his claim that he had intervened to prevent U.S. President George W. Bush from plugging an electrical cord into the hydrogen tank of an experimental Ford vehicle had been meant as a joke.
On Wednesday, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said, "The story wasn't accurate, and I'll just decline to comment further."
Ford said Mulally never expected the story he told journalists in New York last week would be taken seriously.
The CEO found himself in an embarrassing situation when the story was featured on blogs and even in mainstream media such as the Financial Times, which said, "he may have saved the incumbent of the Oval Office from blowing himself up."
Mulally said last Wednesday, recounting a meeting at the White House on March 28, that he had noticed the president appeared to be ready to plug a power cord into the wrong outlet of a rechargeable vehicle that also runs on hydrogen.
"I violated all protocols. I grabbed his arm and I moved him up to the front," Mulally told reporters at the New York auto show.
"I wanted to make sure he plugged into the electricity, not into the hydrogen," he said to roars of laughter from the media, before adding: "This is all off the record, right?"
Ford said Mulally's anecdote had been inspired by a video spoof featured on ABC-TV's "Jimmy Kimmel Live" talk show that suggested Bush blew himself up by plugging the cord in the wrong outlet.
"I tried to tell a joke about it and proved I am no Jimmy Kimmel," Mulally said in a statement that was released to Reuters on Wednesday. "It never occurred to me that it would get such wide play or be taken seriously."
Ford spokesman Tom Hoyt said Mulally thought Kimmel's joke was funny and showed it to several Ford officials before his remarks to reporters.
"He just meant it as a joke. He kind of embellished the whole thing," Hoyt said. "There was no danger whatsoever."
Bush irritated U.S. automakers and allies last year when he said they should build more relevant products. He has been reaching out to them this year and promoting alternative fuel technologies as part of a plan to reduce gasoline consumption by 20 percent.
Additional reporting by Toby Zakaria in Washington DC