Presidential candidates drive Chevys, except for Sanders' Subaru

Henry Payne
The Detroit News
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Michigan's Tuesday presidential primary is a key stop on the road to the White House, and Michiganians want to know what the Democratic and Republican candidates will be picking them up in.

Looks like a long line of Chevys — and a foreign-made Subaru.

Vice-President Joe Biden drives his 1967 Corvette Stingray during an episode of "Jay Leno's Garage" on CNBC. Biden is the car's original owner.

From former Vice President Joe Biden’s smoking hot Corvette to U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders' Chevy Aveo egg-beater to President Donald Trump’s Indy 500 Camaro pace car, the candidates like the General’s iron. But Sanders was seen Tuesday driving his wife Jane to the Vermont polls in a Subaru Forester.

Even the Democratic pols who dropped out of the race just ahead of the Michigan primary (but will still be on the ballot Tuesday) drove Chevys when they weren’t on their campaign bus.

The personal vehicles of political candidates have always been fraught with meaning as politicians express their empathy for the state that put America on wheels — and the United Auto Workers union employees who built them. Candidate choices are  complicated by Democratic platforms that declare autos a threat to the planet, even as the Detroit Three automakers butter their bread with hulking sport utility vehicles and trucks coveted by consumers.  

Few consumer items express your personality like a car. You are what you drive. Truck owners are different from sports car owners are different from hybrid owners. During the last presidential election, a CarTalk.com/National Public Radio poll found that 86% of electric car owners were for a Democrat and 14% supported Republicans. GOP supporters were more likely to drive Detroit Three truck brands.

Auto choices can toe a fine line, as illustrated by Michigan favorite Barack Obama, the Democratic president who chastised the Motor City at the Detroit Economic Club in 2007 for not making more Toyota Prius-like hybrids — yet owned an earth-pawing, V8-powered Chrysler 300C himself.

Here's what you'll find in the 2020 candidates’ garages.

Colin Powell, Joe Biden and Jay Leno, from left, with Biden's Corvette.

Joe Biden

Like the president he served, the ex-veep likes cool wheels – but could not drive to the office by Secret Service rules. When he is on the campaign trail, Biden plays to his party’s green base, saying “we’ve got to take combustion engine cars off the road as rapidly as we can.”

But Biden is a self-proclaimed car guy who famously drag-raced former Secretary of State Colin Powell in 2016 in his V8-powered, ’67 Corvette Stingray convertible on the “Jay Leno’s Garage” TV Show. The muscle car was a wedding gift from his father.

Bernie Sanders

The Sanders campaign advertises its candidate drives a fuel-efficient, 2011 Chevy Aveo, fitting a political message that targets One Percenters and encourages sacrifice to fight climate change. The Aveo averaged 27 miles per gallon in city driving and 35 mpg on the highway.

Sen. Bernie Sanders drives a 2011 Chevrolet Aveo, which had a starting price of $12,700.

But on Super Tuesday, CBS News reported that Sanders drove “himself and wife, Jane, to their polling location ... in a Subaru Forester.” Made in Japan, the Forester runs counter to Sanders’ vocal support for UAW workers and American-manufactured products — though Subaru has brand status in liberal, environmentally conscious Vermont. A 2020 model averages 27 mpg in the city and 35 mpg on the highway.

"We are appreciative of the support of Sen. Biden, Sen. Sanders, Sen. Warren and all of the Democratic candidates, especially during the recent 40-day strike and on trade issues," UAW spokesman Brian Rothenberg said in a statement. "Ultimately when we all purchase a vehicle, buying a union-made vehicle, made right here at home, is the most direct way to invest in all of us."

Like Sanders’ 2011 Aveo, other candidates seem to have taken Obama’s 2007 Detroit speech to heart. Obama promised to “require automakers to meet higher fuel standards and produce more fuel-efficient cars.” Detroit automakers did, and the Democratic candidates bought them.

Former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg bought a 30 miles-per-gallon, 2015 Chevy Cruze. On the campaign trail, Buttigieg touted the sedan’s manufacture in the key swing state of Ohio. He dropped out of the race Sunday and endorsed Biden. Billionaire Tom Steyer, who proposed banning gas-powered vehicles sales by 2030, drives a 2016 Chevy Volt plug-in. He suspended his campaign on Saturday.

Outside of the candidates, the sippy Chevys struggled to find buyers in the U.S. market, and the Aveo, Cruze and Volt are all out of production.

Elizabeth Warren

The campaign of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts did not respond to Detroit News inquiries. Her choice of vehicles outside of her “Courage over Cynicism” campaign bus is not well documented — though she does apparently Buy American. Before her Senate run in 2012, she ditched her BMW for a Ford gasoline-electric hybrid.

Mike Bloomberg

A public transit proponent, Bloomberg — like many New Yorkers — took the subway to work as mayor. Unlike most New Yorkers, Bloomberg was picked up at his Upper East Side town house by a pair of ginormous, New York Police Department-issue Chevrolet Suburban SUVs and delivered to his subway stop. His campaign said he has continued using similar SUVs following his time in office. 

On Wednesday, Bloomberg dropped out of the race and endorsed Biden.

While Bloomberg doesn’t not appear to be a car guy, news reports suggest he is a plane guy. The billionaire entrepreneur is licensed to fly airplanes and helicopters. A fleet of planes are registered under his "Wing & Rotor Transportation Holdings LLC," including a twin-turboprop Hawker Beechcraft, AgustaWestland helicopter, Cessna 182 Skylane, and three Dassault Falcon jets.

Donald Trump

The president will be on Michigan’s Republican ballot Tuesday as well, getting a nominal challenge from former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld, who ran in 2016 as a Libertarian vice presidential candidate.

For the last four years, Trump has been ferried about in a Secret Service-piloted, 22,000-pound, armored Cadillac built on a heavy-duty truck chassis. Nicknamed “The Beast,” the limo recently paced the Daytona 500 field. It reportedly is powered by a diesel engine (diesel fuel is less flammable) and has 8-inch thick armor.

The presidential limousine known as "The Beast," is parked on pit row before the start of the NASCAR Daytona 500 auto race at Daytona International Speedway, Sunday, Feb. 16, 2020, in Daytona Beach, Fla.

But the president’s personal collection also reportedly favors GM products.

There’s that 2011 Chevy Camaro Indianapolis 500 pace car as well as a Cadillac Escalade SUV and drop-top Caddy Allante. Though he doesn’t see eye-to-eye with Elon Musk on global warming, Trump also reportedly owns an American-made Tesla. Speaking of domestic fare, he also keeps a 24-karat gold, custom-made motorcycle from former “Apprentice” contestant Paul Teutal Sr. — owner of Orange County Choppers.

Trump’s collection is ever-changing, but according to news reports, he also owns a fleet of European chariots including a 1956 Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud, 2015 Rolls Phantom, Mercedes S600 sedan, and 617-horse, $450,000-plus 2003 Mercedes Benz SLR McLaren. 

So there is some bipartisan agreement after all. Both Bernie and The Donald own GM and foreign products. And there is this, according to the CarTalk.com poll: Supporters of the Democratic and Republican front-runners tend to own older, pre-2000 vehicles.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.

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