The downside of being the Vice President of the United States, Joe Biden says, is that he's not allowed to drive anymore.
A chauffer might suit most politicians just fine, but for the son of a car dealer, such restrictions are grating. His 1967 Chevy Corvette, a wedding gift from his dad, sits idled in a garage. As a Christmas gift last year, his kids had the engine repaired and the clutch fixed, which makes it a particularly tempting ride.
"There was one point, I said to my Secret Service agent, 'Either get in the passenger seat with me or shoot me,'" Biden said Thursday morning in Detroit, before adding, "I shouldn't be saying this probably."
His long-running passion for cars and the auto industry was evident during an appearance at the North American International Auto Show. The vice president detailed his favorite articles in Motor Trend and Car and Driver, fondly recalled the '51 Chevy Bel Air and Pontiac Tempest of his youth and then toured the show floor with the CEOs of the major domestic automakers and sat in dozens of new models on display.
Oh, and Biden also found time to deliver a speech that hailed the resurrection the American auto industry and domestic manufacturing. It was clear the vice president, whose father owned two General Motors dealerships, wasn't only talking about fiscal health, but the reinvention of the vehicles themselves.
Related GalleryJoe Biden at the 2014 Detroit Auto Show
"I remember in the good years and bad years, my dad used to say, 'All they gotta do is send me product,'" said Biden, repeating the "send me product line" for emphasis.
He was flanked by the very best of it Thursday. On the left side of Biden's stage sat the latest versions of the Ford Mustang, Chrysler 200 and Chevy Silverado, the pickup that won North American Truck of the Year honors here earlier this week. On the right side sat the Jeep Cherokee, Ford Fusion and Chevy Corvette, which took Car of the Year honors. Later, he sat in a 2015 Corvette Z06 with new GM CEO Mary Barra.
Created amid the depths of a dire recession that eviscerated the industry, Biden used the vehicles as examples of why the federal government was justified in intervening and bailing out the domestic automakers. Car sales plummeted to a low of 10.4 million vehicles in 2009, and have mounted a gradual recovery. In 2013, they registered 15.6 million, the highest number in five years. Analysts expect sales will surpass the 16-million milestone this year.
Without the bailout, Biden argued such numbers may never have been reached.
"Economists used to come in and tell us, 'You've got to lower your sights, the days when the automobile industry gives you 15 million, those days are gone,'" he said. "My response is, 'Where is it written, where is one factual point, where it says America can't continue to lead the world in automobile manufacturing? Where was that written? What structurally changed in America? Did we lose our genius? Do we no longer have the most productive workers in the world?"'
He noted that wage cuts and assembly-plant closings helped fortify automakers' bottom lines, but hurt UAW workers who comprise the Democratic party's base in Michigan. But Biden said those short-term sacrifices have been worthwhile because of the recent addition of jobs throughout the state. Citing examples, he said the F-150's resurgence has created 4,300 jobs at Ford's River Rouge plant and the Chrysler 200's redevelopment created 900 jobs in Sterling Heights.
Such jobs, he said, will sustain the middle class again. It's vital that sort of middle-class job growth occurs not just across the country, but particularly here in Detroit.
"This is not only an important city, but an iconic city," Biden said. "Detroit represents the manufacturing might of America."
Pete Bigelow is an associate editor at AOL Autos. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @PeterCBigelow.