“We bet on American ingenuity, we bet on you, and we won,” he said.
Biden’s visit to the North American International Auto Show follows the US Treasury’s sale last month from its remaining stake in General Motors. The exit ended the so-called ‘Government Motors’ era that followed the US government’s $50bn bailout and reorganisation of the company.
The vehicles on display at the show reflect the sacrifices made during the industry’s restructuring in the recession, Biden said. On a tour of the show floor, he sat in a Corvette sports car, a Ford F-150 pickup and a Chrysler 200 family car.
The auto show today is a different place than five years ago when the Detroit Three struggled for survival. GM and Chrysler, after being propped up by aid given under then president George W Bush, would ultimately undergo bankruptcy reorganisation after current president Barack Obama took office. Ford Motor, which avoided bankruptcy, had its own painful restructuring.
After his speech, Biden toured the show floor, stopping to meet with new GM CEO Mary Barra, Ford Motor executive chairman Bill Ford and Sergio Marchionne, CEO of Chrysler Group and majority owner Fiat SpA.
Biden sat in a redesigned Chrysler 200 mid-size sedan and joked with the crowd to stand back as he was going to drive it off. At the Ford display, he smiled widely at the new Mustang sports car and hopped inside an F-150.
“I’m like a kid in a candy store,” Biden said
Buoyed by lower debt and reduced labour costs, GM and Chrysler are emblematic of a revitalised US auto industry that last year saw its best sales year since 2007. Chrysler and Ford both gained US market share last year and GM swept the North American Car and Truck of the Year awards this week.
The bailout preserved 2.6m jobs in 2009 at auto-makers and companies that depend on the industry, according to the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
The center calculates that a collapse would have eliminated $284bn in personal income in 2009 and 2010 and cost the federal government $105bn in unemployment benefits, as well as reduce social security contributions.
Following the news last month that the US government was out of GM, Dan Akerson announced his retirement as CEO.
He was succeeded yesterday by Barra, who had been the automaker’s chief product officer.