DETROIT -- President Barack Obama’s time with a fortified Cadillac limo, he calls it "the beast," is winding down, so he admittedly did a little browsing Wednesday for a new vehicle at the Detroit auto show.
Following his visit to the show floor, he was peppered with suggestions during a speech at the UAW-GM Center for Human Resources near downtown Detroit. One onlooker shouted Ford while another said Cadillac.
But one proposal from the crowd, a Jeep Grand Cherokee, struck a chord and caused Obama to take a stroll down memory lane.
“I will say the Cherokee was the first new car I ever bought. I didn’t get a new car until I was like 32. I always had an old, beat up hoopty,” Obama said. “ … I thought I was a bad man once I was in that car. I was up all high looking at the road.”
The New York Times reported that Obama’s 2000 Grand Cherokee was auctioned off in May 2010 for $26,437.50, a hefty sum for a 10-year-old SUV with 133,000 miles on it.
Obama, who presided over the U.S. auto industry’s restructuring after initial bailout funds were provided to GM and Chrysler by the George W. Bush administration, recounted the harrowing times the industry faced back in 2008.
He said GM and Chrysler wouldn’t be around today without the government’s intervention, while a devastated supply chain could’ve taken down Ford as well.
“More than 1 million Americans would’ve lost their jobs at the worst possible time. Not just auto workers, but the people in communities who depend on you,” Obama said. “The teachers who teach your kids, the small business owners who know your name. Their livelihoods would’ve been at stake as well, so we decided we couldn’t let that happen.”
Since then, Obama said the auto industry has added more than 640,000 new jobs.
“In exchange for help, we demanded responsibility. We said the auto industry would have to truly change, not just pretend it was changing,” Obama said. “The industry retooled, it restructured. Management and labor got together to settle your differences. Everybody put some skin in the game, everybody sacrificed for the sake and survival of this industry.”
Obama has made several trips to Detroit and Michigan during his two terms to monitor the bailout and celebrate its overall success.
During the stop at the Detroit auto show, Obama sought to give a push to electric vehicles. He sat in the driver's seat of a 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV, an all-electric car that GM says will have an estimated range of 200 miles on a single charge. The president declared it a nice-looking car.
U.S. sales of EVs fell last year 6 percent to 115,000, and the Obama administration acknowledged it would not meet its goal of getting 1 million plug-in vehicles on U.S. roads by 2015. To date, about 400,000 EVs have been sold.