The 'Auto Show Of Auto Shows' Kicks Off Amid Downturn

The annual Detroit Auto show kicked off Monday. The venue, known for its extravagance and its ability to bring millions of dollars into Detroit, is especially important to the Motor City this year as it has some of the highest foreclosure and unemployment rates in the country. Host Michel Martin talks with Jerome Vaughn, of NPR member station WDET-FM in Detroit, about the economic impact of the show and some of the hot models being showcased this year.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

Now from Wall Street to the Motor City, both are the homes of industries that were bailed out last year by the federal government. The two-week-long North American International Auto Show, more commonly known as the Detroit Auto Show, opened its doors yesterday to the media. The annual event gives consumers a chance to preview the hot new rides that will be hitting the streets in the coming months and years. But so far, the buzz coming out of the event isn't just about a sleek new SUV but rather, the fact that the speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, along with the delegation of other Washington politicians, descended on the car show.

Here to talk about this is Jerome Vaughn, the news and program director of member station WDET in Detroit. Welcome. Welcome back, I should say. Happy New Year.

JEROME VAUGHN: Happy New Year to you, good to be with you.

MARTIN: Now, this is the first Detroit auto show since the government pledged more than $80 billion to stop the auto industry from breaking down completely. Many people are pointing to the fact that Nancy Pelosi and other Washington lawmakers were in attendance yesterday as evidence of the importance that Washington now plays in the auto industry. How was their presence viewed?

VAUGHN: Well, it was really looked at as a good sign, a sign that the government was - had made an impact, that the government had made this huge, huge investment in the auto industry several months ago and that it's starting to pay off. They didn't feel like they needed to shun us, to say, oh, the auto industry, they had to take that bailout.

Now they're saying, look, this investment is paying off. Look at these, these great new cars and trucks that people are interested in. Look at this new technology, a lot of battery technology, a lot of electric cars being focused on at the auto show this year. So all of that, they wanted to take some of the credit for. And they - they did that yesterday.

MARTIN: And you know, it's no secret that Detroit as a city, as a place to live, has been devastated by all the turmoil in the auto industry and by the recession sort of overall. Does the auto show itself have an economic impact on Detroit?

VAUGHN: Oh, it has a huge economic impact. I mean, whenever you have thousands of people coming from around the globe and, you know, concentrates them in one space, it has an impact. I think we've got about 5,000 journalists who are showing up this week, and the economic impact between them and the spin-off industries is expected to be about $320 million for Detroit. So we love that.

MARTIN: How does that compare? How does this year's auto show compare to those of prior years? I understand that last year's was a little bit more low-key than it had been. What about this year?

VAUGHN: This year, there seems to be a little more life, a little more energy in it. I mean, last year, you know, the auto show was just coming off a couple of months after the congressional hearings. There was a lot of uncertainty about whether General Motors and Chrysler were going to declare bankruptcy. There was uncertainty about what was going to happen to the industry.

Well, the feeling now is that the worst has happened. GM and Chrysler have both gone into and come out of bankruptcy. And right now, there's a little more energy, there's a littler more feeling that we've done what we've needed to do to streamline the businesses and now, we can move forward. And so even Nancy Pelosi said, you know, this seems to be a rebirth, a renaissance of the auto industry. And of course, Detroiters love to hear that because we're known as the Renaissance City.

MARTIN: And finally, it is the auto show we're talking about - so what is the hot new car? Is there anything you were tempted to take a spin in?

VAUGHN: Oh, plenty of things. The Chevy Cruze looks really interesting. The new Ford Focus has a lot of electronic gadgets with it. There's a new Toyota, smaller hybrid than the Prius. So I think a lot of great things this year.

MARTIN: Anything you have your eye on? You can tell me.

VAUGHN: No, I would rather not say.

(Soundbite of laughter)

VAUGHN: I want it to be a surprise.

MARTIN: You still want the Porsche, right?

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Just ahead - Jerome Vaughn is news and program director of member station WDET in Detroit. He has been covering the annual Detroit Auto Show. Thanks so much for being with us.

Mr. VAUGHN: Any time.

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