UPDATE: The Detroit show wrapped up this past weekend. The NAIAS is one of five major auto shows in North America, along with New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Toronto. Along with the really big shows, there’s a circuit of regional shows in other major markets. While automotive executives are pretty commonplace at the major shows, you’re not as likely to find a CEO at one of the regional events.
The Washington Auto Show starts later this week. As if to underscore the movement of the domestic auto industry’s center of gravity to Washington, Ford CEO Alan Mulally will be keynoting the Washington show’s media preview. At the Detroit show, General Motors announced that Michigan would join California as a launch market for Chevy’s Volt extended range electric vehicle. Today, in advance of the Washington show, GM announced the greater Washington, D.C., area as the third launch market.
“Concentrating Volt sales in these three key initial markets allows us to give our first customers a high-quality experience,” said Jim Campbell, Chevrolet general manager. “In addition to geographical considerations, each market also has progressive local and state government leaders and utility partners who are crucial in bringing electric vehicles to market.”
Key initial market indeed.
The drama of the domestic automakers continues to make the media preview of the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit a must-attend event for journalists. Reduced circumstances may have forced some manufacturers to forego expensive concept cars, catered press conferences, or even displaying at all in Detroit (in the case of Nissan/Infiniti), but still over 5,000 press credentials were issued to journalists, photographers, broadcasters, and bloggers from around the world.
In the wake of the government bailout of GM and Chrysler, with so many reporters present it’s not surprising that the show organizers would also have to issue a large number of credentials to politicians — eager to get publicity and to show the automakers just who is in charge.
The first day of the media preview started at 7:30 a.m. with a press conference for Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. It ended at 5:30 p.m with a press conference for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the rest of the congressional delegation.
Someone threw an auto show, and a political rally broke out. Local, regional, and state politicians are nothing new at the NAIAS, but this year there were scores of politicians and staff members from Washington as well.
From the Obama administration, there were two cabinet members (LaHood and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis), senior EPA official Marg0 Oge, and the head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, David Strickland. Each of them traveled with an entourage of PR people and agency employees. It’s possible that there were also representatives attending from the Department of Energy as well. From the legislative branch, in addition to Michigan’s Debbie Stabenow, Tom Carper of Delaware (who brought his teenage son along) represented the U.S. Senate. Speaker Nancy Pelosi was accompanied by 15 of her colleagues from the House, including Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. Rep. Fred Upton, of western Michigan, was Pelosi’s “bipartisan” fig leaf — the only Republican in the delegation.
Her remarks, and those of Hoyer, were essentially cheerleading for the Democratic agenda and the Obama administration’s decision to effectively nationalize General Motors and turn control of Chrysler over to Fiat.
The Chrysler decision has been attributed to Steve Rattner, whom President Obama appointed to head the Presidential Task Force on the Auto Industry. Rattner was also at the NAIAS. Interestingly, though Rattner works for the Obama administration and though the administration insists it isn’t closely managing GM and Chrysler, Rattner’s badge read “GM” and he walked the Chrysler exhibit with Sergio Marchione, Fiat’s CEO.