DETROIT — Vice President Joe Biden helped kick off the public start to the 2014 North American International Auto Show with a speech in which he celebrated the industry’s comeback and alluded to the city's bankruptcy struggle.
“Just like the auto industry came back, Detroit’s going to come back,” Mr. Biden said on Thursday. He called Detroit “not only an important city, but an iconic city that represents and symbolizes the manufacturing might of the United States of America all through the 20th century.”
Some 250 seated guests and scores more standing nearby heard the vice president in an atrium of the Cobo Center, where the annual auto show is to open to the public on Saturday.
The vice president briefly shared the microphone with Detroit Mayor Michael Duggan, who said Mr. Biden was “the fiercest advocate for support of our auto industry in Washington.”
Mr. Biden and President Obama have been to Detroit and Toledo repeatedly to celebrate the success of the domestic auto industry after its near-collapse in 2009.
After the speech, the vice president, who called himself a “car junkie,” toured the auto show floor, hopped in cars and trucks, and chatted with auto industry executives, including new General Motors Chief Executive Officer Mary Barra. He touched the back of a shiny new Ford F-150 and told reporters, “I feel like a kid in a candy shop,” and “I wanna take a couple of these home.”
He said the Obama Administration’s $80 billion in aid to Chrysler and GM in 2009 helped save the industry, which has returned to world success.
“We determined that, how could we possibly walk away from the iconic industry of America? When you go around the world, the one thing America was known for — automobiles and aircraft. That’s who we were,” he said.
According to the U.S Treasury Department’s summary of the auto industry bailout, the government recovered $63.2 billion from its investment.
Mr. Biden praised the productivity and technological ingenuity of the industry and its work force.
“Thank you again for making America the automotive capital of the world,” Mr. Biden said.
The vice president fondly talked about a 1967 Corvette that he said was given to him and his fiancee as a wedding gift by his father who managed two auto dealerships. He still owns the car.
“One of the downsides as vice president of the United States is you’re not allowed to drive,” Mr. Biden said. He said his sons had the engine rebuilt, and he was so determined to try it, that, ‘I said to the chief agent, I said, look, either get in the passenger seat with me or shoot me, because I’m moving.’ ”
Among the listeners was Michael Martini, an executive of Bridgestone Americas, which he said is the world’s largest tire and rubber company and has a technical center in Akron, not to mention 2,250 Firestone repair centers in the United States.
“There’s no question the U.S. government, the Canadian government as well, stepped in when the industry needed it the most. And celebrating that fact, but more importantly, giving new life to the industry is really important,” Mr. Martini said.
Timothy Leuliette, president and chief executive officer of Visteon Corp., agreed that the resurgence of the auto industry is to be celebrated, but he said he’d like to see the recovery move even faster.
“The concern of all of us in the business community is the viability and strength of the recovery,” Mr. Leuliette said.
On Wednesday night, the vice president dined at the Italian restaurant Roma Cafe in Eastern Market with Mayor Duggan. And he attended a fund-raiser for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer and U.S. Senate candidate Gary Peters.