Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s speech was part sales, part motivation as he addressed ailing automakers at this week’s Detroit auto show.
LaHood told reporters at a before-show press conference, “Today is a new beginning for the automotive industry.”
LaHood believes that the companies are on their way back from the edge of financial demise. According to LaHood, loan repayment by GM has begun, and taxpayers will soon see that the money invested in the auto industry will renew the economy and bring vitality back to the marketplace.
He went on to say, "When people have an opportunity to see the kind of products that are now being manufactured and will be on display, they will realize the auto industry is manufacturing products people want to drive. This industry is one of the pillars of our economy. As this industry comes back, the economy will come back, jobs will come back and we’ll be on the way to the kind of recovery we’re all hoping for."
LaHood spoke near the test drive track at the show, where around twenty vehicles waited to be test driven. He praised automakers for stepping up to deliver the fuel efficient vehicles that meet the new, tougher standards.
He said, “We have made progress that was never possible before thanks to the industry and thanks to the leadership of President (Barack) Obama.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will lead a congressional delegation that will be touring the auto show this week. In the spotlight will be the newest hybrids and all-electric small vehicles that represent the industry’s commitment to “going green”.
IHS Global Insight analyst Rebecca Lindland says these new models only represent a small part of the actual auto industry, even though they are drawing the most attention.
She says, “They’re going to try to show the visiting dignitaries—the people from Washington who are going and the journalists and American consumer—that they are quote unquote listening so they’re bringing out more green cars. But if you look at the sales numbers, hybrid vehicles went from 2.4 to 2.7 percent of the market last year.”
Lindland also said that all the talk doesn’t mean that consumers are ready to buy “hyper hybrids” and that the industry focus should remain on improving fuel economy of traditional gas powered vehicles.
GM vice chairman Bob Lutz said he is encouraged by the attention and support the auto industry has received from Washington. He stated, “Since they basically own two U.S. automobile companies, they probably would logically think that it’s a good thing to see how their investment is doing. It took the financial failure of the American automobile industry to make the whole country aware of the importance of the American automobile industry…but I personally very much welcome where we are at.”
Last week, GM chairman Ed Whitacre noted that it will take some work to improve the company’s tense relationship with lawmakers in Washington.