Vice President Joe Biden was squired around the Detroit auto show Friday by the CEOs of two car companies saved by the U.S. government and its taxpayers — and the executive chairman of the one domestic automaker that didn’t seek a bailout.
He spent about a half hour on the show floor, seeing the best that Detroit is offering carbuyers.
“I’m like a kid in a candy shop,” said Biden, whose father was a longtime dealership manager and sold GM, Chrysler and Ford products at one time or another.
A Corvette owner, Biden took in the GM display with new CEO Mary Barra and sat in a 2015 Stingray. At the Chrysler exhibit with CEO Sergio Marchionne, the vice president tried out several new cars, including the Jeep Cherokee and Chrysler 200. He warned journalists to get out of the way because “I am driving it off.”
At the Ford display, Biden met up with Executive Chairman Bill Ford Jr., and U.S. Rep. John Dingell, whose district includes Dearborn and Ford’s headquarters.
“Thank you for saving our a--,” the blunt-spoken Biden told Ford Jr., apparently referring to the industry’s near meltdown in 2008-09, when Ford chose not to follow GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy, nor seek a government bailout. Ford Jr.’s response couldn’t be made out.
Before heading to see a new Ford Mustang, Biden spotted a 1965 Mustang on the show floor and then looked at a new one. He also sat in Ford’s new 2015 F-150 pickup, which has been the center of auto show buzz because of its use of aluminum. The vice president said his brother has an F-150.
Biden lamented that as vice president he can’t drive. His sons arranged to have Biden’s classic 1967 Corvette engine repaired and a new clutch installed as a Christmas last year. It sat — and Biden would start it up — but not drive it.
“I said to the chief (Secret Service) agent, I said ‘Look, either get in the passenger seat with me or shoot me because I’m moving,’ and I laid about 60 feet of rubber up my driveway and these guys are still talking about, ‘What the hell’s the matter with this guy?’ I shouldn’t be saying this, probably.”
Before his tour of the show floor, Biden delivered remarks in the atrium of the renovated Cobo Center.
“What a difference five years makes,” he said.
“Just like the auto industry came back, Detroit is going to come back.”
The Obama administration agreed to spend about $60 billion to help rescue GM and Chrysler, after the Bush administration infused the first $25 billion.
“We bet on American ingenuity, we bet on you and we won,” Biden said, recounting a central theme of the 2012 presidential campaign. “How could we possibly walk away from the iconic industry of America?”
“This is not only an important city but an iconic city. It represents, it symbolizes the manufacturing might of the United States of America all through the 20th century,” Biden said. “Manufacturing is coming back — not just in the automotive industry. ... We bet on American ingenuity.”
Biden dismissed suggestions that the U.S. auto industry’s best days had passed and emphasized that auto jobs were middle-class jobs that enabled Americans to buy houses and support families. The vice president noted “workers paid a real price” to restructure the auto industry and “they accepted plant closures, benefit cuts, wage cuts and everyone knows these companies wouldn’t be in existence today without all that cumulative sacrifice made by everyone from car dealers to UAW members.”