The Obama administration is arriving in Detroit in force this week to tout the turnaround of the U.S. auto industry.
“There is incredible optimism about the auto industry,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx told reporters Monday after he kicked off the North American International Auto Show press preview. “This is a sign that the auto industry’s back, and of course we’re going to do everything we can to help Detroit come back as well.”
Foxx, a former Charlotte, N.C., mayor, noted that the U.S. auto industry had its best year in 2013 in six years. “That’s a testament to the vehicles the companies here are making,” said Fox, who toured the Detroit Three exhibits.
The influx of officials comes as the government has all but completed its exit from the $85 billion bailout. Last month, the Treasury sold its final shares in General Motors Co. and hopes to exit Detroit-based lender Ally Financial Inc. this year.
Government officials lavished praise on the auto turnaround. “This is one of the biggest success stories that we have in this administration and for the United States,” Environmental Protection Administrator Gina McCarthy said as she toured the show Monday. “This industry has bounced back.” She toured the show with Labor Secretary Thomas Perez.
Perez — sporting a UAW-Ford jacket — said the auto show “is like having the Super Bowl every year in Detroit.”
“We want to make sure we can continue to help the industry grow,” Perez said, saying the $85 billion auto bailout has “paid dividends” for the economy.
The White House said Vice President Joe Biden will visit the North American International Auto Show in Detroit Thursday to “discuss the future of the American auto industry and highlight its strong recovery following the tough restructuring and shared sacrifice required by the Administration’s actions in 2009.” Biden may fly into Detroit on Wednesday.
Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker will tour the show Wednesday and address the Detroit Economic Club. Governors from Michigan, Ohio, Missouri and Kentucky, and some members of Congress also are touring the show, including Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del.
Separately, Foxx said he plans to lay out his priorities in a major speech this week.
Foxx will speak Wednesday in Washington before the Transportation Research Board. He said the department will “deepen our efforts” on fighting distracted and impaired driving.
Foxx said his department is concerned about privacy concerns of drivers. Last week, the Government Accountability Office issued a report that said some automakers are retaining some data about driver GPS use for up to seven years. “The technology raises questions,” Foxx told reporters.
Foxx declined to talk about the status of the government’s investigation into undercarriage fires of Tesla Motors Model S electric vehicles, but said the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is trying to wrap up the investigation into Jeep SUV fires that has been ongoing since 2010. It’s been more than six months since Chrysler Group LLC announced a recall of 1.56 million vehicles in response to government pressure.
“We’re working hard and hopefully we’ll have some news soon,”
Foxx also toured Focus: HOPE in Detroit on Monday with Perez.