As President Barack Obama planned a visit to the Washington Auto Show for Jan. 31, non-U.S.-based automakers including Honda Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Corp. hustled to show off for him.
On about two days’ notice, they flew in executives from as far away as California. They trucked in their most fuel-efficient vehicles, as requested by White House staff.
Obama walked in, strolled past cars made in the U.S. by foreign companies and spent much of his half-hour tour being photographed with a Dodge Dart, a Ford Mustang Shelby GT500, a Chevrolet Silverado pick-up, a Jeep Grand Cherokee, a Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1, a Ford C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid and a Chevrolet Malibu.
Representatives of Honda, Kia Motors Corp., Mercedes-Benz and other automakers waited in a “bullpen” to be called upon to answer Obama’s questions about their vehicles. None were, said Michael Stanton, chief executive officer of the Association of Global Automakers.
“Many of our members bent over backwards to meet the request from the White House,” Stanton said. “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.”
Obama’s visit to the show at the Washington Convention Center came one day before Honda, based in Tokyo, announced a $100 million plant expansion in Ohio to make components for more-efficient transmissions and add 150 jobs. That’s part of $500 million in upgrades in Ohio in the past 18 months.
The Association of Global Automakers’ members, which include Honda, Kia and Toyota, have invested more than $43 billion and have more than 80,000 employees in the U.S., Stanton said. The group is based in Washington.
Sandra Abrevaya, a spokeswoman for the White House, didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment.
Honda From California
Honda, which brought in a FCX Clarity fuel-cell car from California to show the president, says it has invested $11.1 billion in the U.S. Kia flew in an executive from its U.S. headquarters in California to be available to talk about the 2012 Optima hybrid it had on display for Obama. Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz transported a fuel-cell car from New Jersey to show the president.
The non-U.S. automakers had been told by White House staff that the president wanted to see green cars, Nancy McLernon, Organization for International Investment chief executive officer, said in an interview.
“Because as a group they were ignored, it was problematic,” McLernon said.
Reviving U.S. Automakers
Obama and officials of his administration this year, including in speeches at last month’s North America International Auto Show in Detroit, have taken credit for reviving U.S. automakers.
“When you look at all these cars, it is testimony to the outstanding work that’s been done by workers, American workers, American designers,” Obama said at the show, according to a transcript. “The U.S. auto industry is back. The fact that GM is back, number one, I think shows the kind of turnaround that’s possible when it comes to American manufacturing.”
GM and Chrysler in 2009 emerged from bankruptcy after receiving an $82 billion bailout that Obama led. The U.S. government still owns 32 percent of GM. Chrysler is now majority-owned by Fiat SpA, based in Turin, Italy.
“I don’t believe it was an intentional snub,” said John O’Donnell, executive vice president of the Washington Area New Automobile Dealers Association, which organizes the Washington auto show. “I think he was checking up on the investment that he made from kind of fiduciary standpoint. He made the investment in the domestics.”