UPDATED: 1/16/14 5:02 pm ET - adds details, video
DETROIT -- U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said the U.S. government's wager on the nation's automotive industry has paid off.
"We bet on American ingenuity, we bet on you and we won," he said today during a speech at the Detroit auto show.
Biden's visit to the show follows the U.S. Treasury's sale last month of its remaining stake in General Motors Co. The exit ended the so-called "Government Motors" era that followed the U.S. government's $50 billion bailout and reorganization of the company. The vehicles on display at the show reflect the sacrifices made during the industry's restructuring during 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 3 struggled for survival. GM and Chrysler, after being propped up by aid given under then-President George W. Bush, would ultimately undergo a bankruptcy reorganization after Barack Obama took office. Ford Motor Co., which avoided bankruptcy, had its own painful restructuring.
"What a difference five years makes," Biden told several hundred people at the auto show. "Everything from the mood here at this auto show in 2009 to what you faced back then -- literally the likely collapse of the automobile industry."
After his speech, Biden toured the show floor, stopping to meet with new GM CEO Mary Barra, Ford Motor Co. Executive Chairman Bill Ford and Sergio Marchionne, the CEO of Chrysler Group LLC and majority owner Fiat SpA.
The vice president sat in a redesigned Chrysler 200 mid-size sedan and joked with the swarming crowd to back away because 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 The crowds swelled as he got to the GM display where he was greeted by Barra, who showed him a red Corvette Stingray.
"Just like at home," he joked as he got in. "I tell you what: Technology matters."
Barra got in as well and the two talked before emerging to check out the new Z06 version, which was revealed at the show earlier this week.
Buoyed by lower debt and reduced labor costs, GM and Chrysler are emblematic of a revitalized U.S. auto industry that last year saw its best sales year since 2007. Chrysler and Ford both gained U.S. market share last year and GM swept the North American Car and Truck of the Year awards this week.
The bailout preserved 2.6 million jobs in 2009 at automakers and companies that depend on the industry, according to the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich. The center calculates that a collapse would have eliminated $284 billion in personal income in 2009 and 2010 and cost the federal government $105 billion in unemployment benefits, as well as reduce Social Security contributions.
Following the announcement last month that the U.S. government was out of GM, Dan Akerson announced his retirement. He was succeeded Wednesday by Barra, who was the automaker's chief product officer.
"American cars and trucks are once again changing the game and, I might add, providing good, decent jobs for families and generating hundreds of thousands of jobs," Biden said. "The truth is we're not only back, we're back stronger."