Obama snubs foreign carmakers at auto show

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Barack Obama
Barack Obama says he is glad he bailed out the auto industry. Image: jurvetson/Flickr/CC BY

In what some see as a campaign move, President Obama visited the Washington D.C. auto show on Monday. He fawned over domestic models and mostly ignored those being shown by foreign automakers. Some representatives of non-U.S. automakers took the president’s lack of attention as a snub.

Presidential spotlight on fuel-efficiency

The President’s visit to the Washington Auto Show was announced in advance, saying that the president was interested in seeing models that promoted fuel-efficiency. The announcement prompted some non-U.S.-based automakers — such as Honda, Kia and Toyota — to ship in executives with the latest, greenest models.

Foreign automakers ignored

The President arrived at the auto show at about 2:30 p.m. He walked past green models being shown by foreign automakers and proceeded to inspect and fawn over 15 new electric vehicles made by Ford, Dodge and General Motors. The President was photographed with a Jeep Grand Cherokee, a Chevrolet Silverado pickup, a Ford Mustang Shelby GT500, a Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1, a Dodge Dart, a Chevrolet Malibu and a Ford C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid. He said a few words and was gone by 3 p.m.

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Michael Stanton, CEO of the Association of Global Automakers, said that Obama ignored representatives of such foreign car brands as Kia, Honda and Mercedes-Benz, who were waiting in a “bullpen.” He said:

“Many of our members bent over backwards to meet the request from the White House. We were just terribly disappointed that the president refused to recognize the commitment that our members and others have made to the manufacturing base of the United States.”

According to Stanton, the foreign automakers represented by the lobby have collectively brought more than $43 billion and 80,000 jobs to U.S. soil.

Snub unintentional, some say

John O’Donnell, of the Washington Area New Automobile Dealers Association, the group that organized the Washington auto show, defended the President:

“I don’t believe it was an intentional snub. I think he was checking up on the investment that he made from kind of fiduciary standpoint. He made the investment in the domestics.”

Campaign rhetoric?

Many saw the visit as a campaign stop for the President, who is running for re-election. Much of his campaign hinges on his then-controversial bail-out of the now-thriving auto industry in the early part of his administration. The president said:

“When you look at all these cars, it is testimony to the outstanding work that’s been done by workers — American workers, American designers. The U.S. auto industry is back. And it’s good to remember that the fact that there were some folks who were willing to let this industry die. Because of folks coming together, we are now back in a place where we can compete with any car company in the world.”

These words, some felt, were a direct jab at Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney, who felt the auto industry bailout “was the wrong way to go.”

Romney said in November:

“We would have had a private sector bailout, with the private sector restructuring and … guiding the direction, as opposed to what we had with government playing its heavy hand.”


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