President Obama dropped by the Washington Auto Show at Walter E. Washington Convention Center Tuesday for a tour of the alternative-fuel vehicles on display. The visit came a week after the president called for the country to develop every available source of domestic energy, including natural gas, during the State of the Union address.
Obama didn’t take questions or give speeches, but simply walked the Advanced Technology Super Highway pavilion at the show. Flanked by Secret Service and a swarm of photographers, the president dipped in and out of the line up of cars and trucks that run on hydrogen, clean diesel, electric or natural gas.
He lingered at General Motor’s display, settling into the fuel efficient Corvette ZR1 before checking out the electric Chevy Volt. GM vice president of global design Ed Welburn was on hand for the tour and answered a few questions for Obama.
“He was mainly interested in what are my greatest challenges in designing these vehicles,” said Welburn, who could be found admiring his own work before Obama showed up. “I always want to raise the level of execution and design something that’s profitable.”
Welburn is hitting his goals these days as GM has reclaimed the crown as the world’s top-selling automaker. The company and its partners sold 9 million vehicles around the world in 2011, a dramatic turnaround for a company that filed for bankruptcy protection less than three years ago.
Both GM and Chrysler, which is also enjoying its own rebirth, received billions from the government in 2009 to retool their flagging operations. GM has returned nearly half of the government’s $50 billion investment, while Chrysler has repaid $7.6 billion (the remaining $4 billion was forgiven).
Obama’s decision to bail out GM and Chrysler drew criticism from both sides of the aisle. But supporters of his actions consider the sales growth recorded by the two automakers as vindication.
The president, indeed, took time during the State of the Union address last week to praise the resurgence of the U.S. auto industry, especially its creation of nearly 160,000 jobs.
“We bet on American workers. We bet on American ingenuity. And tonight, the American auto industry is back,” he said during the address.
The president went on during the speech to discuss the importance of “American-made energy,” which may explain the visit to the local show.
“The development of natural gas will create jobs and power trucks and factories that are cleaner and cheaper, proving that we don’t have to choose between our environment and our economy,” he said during the address.