Top officials skip Detroit auto show

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — The Obama administration’s cabinet secretaries are skipping the North American International Auto Show this year — after six years of touring the show to boost the industry.

While Michigan officials will again be out in force — including the state’s two senators, Gov. Rick Snyder and seven members of the U.S. House from Michigan — gone are the cabinet secretaries and others who have been a mainstay.

Since 2008, cabinet officials, presidential candidates and top members of Congress have paraded through the show in a sign of support of the once-beleaguered auto industry and city of Detroit. Auto sales hit their highest level last year since 2006.

Last year, Vice President Joe Biden toured the Detroit show in a show of support for the city of Detroit during its record-setting bankruptcy restructuring. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, Environmental Protection Agency chief Gina McCarthy and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker also toured the show.

This year, none of them are attending. The new National Highway Traffic Safety Administration chief Mark Rosekind will tour the show Monday and meet in the afternoon with major automakers. Some lower level EPA and Commerce officials — including Janet McCabe, EPA acting assistant administrator, and the Commerce Department’s Jay Williams — will attend the show along with a member of the National Transportation Safety Board, Earl Weener.

But gone are the prominent officials that drew dozens of reporters chasing politicians, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and two dozen members of Congress (2010), Rep. Steny Hoyer (2011), auto czar Ron Bloom (2011), Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., (2009) or presidential candidates John McCain, Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney (2008).

NHTSA’s top official was to speak at the Automotive News World Congress on Tuesday, but for scheduling reasons the agency canceled the speech.

Sens. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, and Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township along with freshmen Reps. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn; Mike Bishop, R-Rochester; Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield; John Moolenaar, R-Midland; and David Trott, R-Birmingham, are expected to the tour show.

The freshmen said in a statement they “are committed to working together to grow the economy and promote manufacturing and good jobs in Michigan, and to advance other issues critical to the state.” They will be joined by Reps. John Conyers, D-Detroit, and Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township.

“The delegation will start the day with a joint interview with Paul W. Smith of WJR 760AM, followed by a tour of the auto show where they will visit with Ford, General Motors, Chrysler, and Toyota. The delegation will then meet with Dan Gilbert and his team to learn about developments in the rejuvenation of Detroit,” they said in a statement.

During the Bush and Clinton administrations, the Detroit show was used by the Transportation Department to announce policies. At the 2007 show, Transportation Secretary Mary Peters proposed tougher car safety crash tests and the addition of a side-impact test as part of the reform of the five-star crash ratings.

Snyder annually tours the auto show. Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., a regular attendee of the shows, is planning to return this year. As usual, the governors of Ohio, Kentucky, Missouri and possibly Indiana will attend.