Obama to tour auto show Jan. 20

Melissa Nann Burke and Michael Wayland
The Detroit News

President Barack Obama will visit the Detroit auto show during a Jan. 20 trip to highlight the revival of the city and the auto industry since the $85 billion auto industry bailout.

Obama’s trip to the North American International Auto Show is intended to highlight the more than 640,000 auto-industry jobs created since the bailout and the record auto sales of 2015, said White House spokesman Keith Maley said. It will be Obama’s first visit to the auto show and 17th trip to Michigan since taking office.

In his weekly address on Saturday, Obama said he would be attending the auto show “to see the progress firsthand. Because I believe that every American should be proud of what our most iconic industry has done.”

“The point is America can do anything. Even in times of great challenge and change, our future is entirely up to us," Obama said.

The White House announcement of the president’s visit hinted Obama may make other stops in Detroit but said details would be provided later.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, said the president on his visit "will witness that Detroit remains in the driver seat where the next-generation products and technologies continue to make their world debuts. I want to personally thank him for his leadership in ensuring we maintain that strength and he will witness first hand what hard work and teamwork deliver. I am a car girl and proud of it.”

Rob Alberts, executive director of the show and the Detroit Auto Dealers Association that hosts it, said Obama’s visit is an “honor.”

“What it really does is it underscores the importance and magnitude of the global news that comes out of our show,” Alberts said. “Having not just the vehicles themselves, but all of the advanced technologies that are going to shape the future of our industry.”

Obama will be at least the third president to attend the Detroit auto show, he said. The others included Bill Clinton in 1999 and Dwight Eisenhower in the late 1950s.

Other political dignitaries, including members of Congress, annually attend the show. Vice President Joe Biden visited Detroit and walked the show floor in 2014.

Show officials will work with the Secret Service on security measures for the president’s visit.

“We’ve been through it back in ’99,” said Alberts, adding he has some of the same security personnel from then. “There are things you go through, just like you would with any presidential visit. But it’s all feasible.”

A statement from Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan’s office said, “The president and administration have been great friends to the city of Detroit, and we look forward to showing him our progress.”

In a walk-through of the auto show Thursday, Duggan said the city was “totally coordinated with the federal government” on all safety issues for the show. “I think you’re going to see very good security.”

The president was last in Michigan in September with Jill Biden, the vice president’s wife, at Macomb County Community College. While there, he spoke about apprenticeship programs and making community college free.

Obama’s last auto-related visit was a year ago in early January when he celebrated American manufacturing, praised the resiliency of Michigan and Detroit, and touted the nation’s economic recovery after touring Ford Motor Co.’s factory in Wayne.

The president used the speech at the Michigan Assembly plant to highlight his administration’s bailout and manufacturing gains across the country. In December 2008, President George W. Bush made the first loans to General Motors and Chrysler, and Obama added more money in 2009, ultimately an $85 billion bailout. Ford did not seek bailout loans.

“It was not popular. Even in Michigan it wasn’t popular,” Obama said at the time. “But that bet has paid off … because the American auto industry is back.”

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest echoed the sentiments this week when he hailed the nation’s record 17.47 million in auto sales last year, a 5.7 percent gain from 2014. It bested the prior best of 17.41 million set in 2000.

“I don’t think there’s a clearer case study of that approach to presidential leadership than the kinds of decisions that President Obama made early in 2009, and the results of those decisions that we’re seeing here in early 2016,” Earnest said at a Wednesday press briefing.

Obama’s January 2015 remarks came at a plant in Wayne that was temporarily shuttered due to low demand for the fuel-efficient Focus and C-Max hybrids it makes.

The president also noted Detroit’s emergence from bankruptcy — the largest municipal financial failure in U.S. history — as well as other signs of progress such as new shops. He praised the efforts of Duggan, who has worked closely with White House officials to secure more aid for Detroit’s recovery and especially blight demolition.

Obama has made other auto-related visits to the state. At GM’s Orion factory in 2011, he and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak touted a new free-trade agreement between the two nations

In July 2010, the president toured the Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly and Chrysler’s Jefferson North Assembly plants. It marked his first presidential visit to Motown.

In February 2012, Obama endorsed the gas-electric Chevrolet Volt, saying he planned to buy the extended-range electric vehicle upon leaving office.

“Five years from now when I’m not president anymore, I’ll buy one and drive it myself,” Obama said to applause during a speech to 1,600 workers and retirees from the United Auto Workers union.

Obama previously owned a Ford Escape gas-electric hybrid, a Chrysler 300 and a Jeep Grand Cherokee. He learned to drive in his grandfather’s Ford Granada and owned a Fiat at one point.

mburke@detroitnews.com