Nick Buckley
The New York Times

Before opening to the public, the Detroit auto show always begins with a week of preview days, first for the media and then for dealers and others who work in the auto industry.

Perhaps organizers should have scheduled a government preview day, too, to accommodate the politicians and federal officials planning to tour the show floor at Cobo Center this week.

The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, the House majority leader, Steny Hoyer, and the transportation secretary, Ray LaHood, are among those flying to Detroit on Monday. All are flying on commercial airlines to minimize expenses and to avoid controversy after the automakers’ chief executives were berated for taking private jets to Washington to ask for a bailout.

Show officials thought there was a chance that President Obama would attend to see how General Motors and Chrysler are faring after their bankruptcies, but a White House spokeswoman said the president would not attend.

This will be the third consecutive year that politicians have crashed the show’s media days. Last year, Senator Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican who voted against aid to G.M. and Chrysler, spent an evening checking out both companies’ new models. In 2008, the three top Republican candidates for the presidential nomination crisscrossed the show floor simultaneously on the eve of Michigan’s primary.

“It’s become part of the program, I guess,” said the show’s chairman, Doug Fox, who owns a Nissan and Hyundai dealership in Ann Arbor, Mich. “It’s a great thing for the show. It also helps show that there are good things happening in Detroit, and that’s a word that needs to be spread around the country.”

But the visits also have the potential to distract. Automakers spend millions of dollars setting up displays and staging introductions of new models, and they want the show to focus on their vehicles.

This year’s media preview has been condensed to two days from three, and the lawmakers are visiting on the first day, when most of the big introductions take place.

At the same time, given the amount of taxpayer money poured into the auto industry in 2009, Congressional leaders would most likely face criticism if they ignored the show. The government now owns 60 percent of G.M. and about 10 percent of Chrysler, having lent a total of $62.5 billion to the two companies.

In fact, some in Detroit wonder why more members of Congress did not visit a year ago, when they were debating assistance for G.M. and Chrysler, with much of the opposition based on what supporters say are outdated perceptions of the industry.

“To fly to Detroit, in January no less, sends a message that the industry is important to the nation’s economy,” a G.M. spokesman, Greg Martin, said. “Any overture to better understand our industry and talk cars should be an opportunity to embrace. We’re proud of the cars and trucks that we’re building, so we’re happy to show them off.”

Many of the visitors from Congress, which include both Democrats and Republicans, are coming at the invitation of Representative John D. Dingell, a Michigan Democrat who was among those lobbying the hardest for the government to help rescue the automakers. A large part of Michigan’s 17-member Congressional delegation is attending.

A tour of the show floor is only a small part of the agenda. They also plan to meet with the chief executives of all three Detroit automakers, leaders of the United Automobile Workers union and Mayor Dave Bing of Detroit, among others.

“Our bipartisan delegation will visit Detroit to see first hand the innovative technologies the industry is investing in to create the jobs of the future and to ensure our national competitiveness,” Ms. Pelosi said through a spokesman. “We go to Detroit with our commitment to continue to preserve our manufacturing base, which is essential to our economic and national security.”

Though many here hope the show can counter the unflattering opinions many outsiders have of Detroit, Mr. Corker said his visit did not cause him to reconsider his stance toward the industry.

“If anything,” he told reporters who were following him around the show floor, “being here makes me even more committed to the things I said, and that is, we need to cause these companies to get their capital structure and competitiveness right so we can see these great products that they’ve been working on for years sold to Americans and sold to people around the world.”


Post a Comment