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Lawmakers at auto show welcome industry’s resurgenc

by Candice Miller on January 13, 2015

http://www.freep.com/story/money/cars/detroit-auto-show/2015/01/12/naias-auto-show-detroit/21646219/

By Robert Allen, Detroit Free Press2:46 p.m. EST January 12, 2015

U.S. Sen. Gary Peters said he’s impressed with the technology on display at Cobo Center for the auto show and expects it will also help make cars safer.

“These are just cutting-edge vehicles,” Peters, of Bloomfield Township, said Monday while touring the North American International Auto Show in downtown Detroit. “Best-in-class vehicles that are being made here in Michigan or in the United States, and so I’m very, very proud of what I’m seeing.”

U.S. auto industry sales reached 16.5 million last year, the highest since 2006, and executives are already predicting another big year. But 2014 was also a record year for recalls, with General Motors’ ignition-switch problems and faulty Takata air bagsaffecting 10 manufacturers.

Peters, a Democrat who serves on the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, said he anticipates hearings regarding the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and will be researching whether it faces any challenges regulating the industry.

“Certainly we have to be focused on consumer safety,” Peters said, “to make sure that when you’re driving a vehicle, that you can feel comfortable that you’re safe and your family is safe when you’re in there.”

He said the manufacturers “obviously want to produce safe cars as well,” and that it’s important for regulators and the industry to work together. Innovations such as devices that help ensure cars are properly spaced on roads are among those he hopes will keep motorists safer, he said.

U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, said she’s impressed with how GM CEO Mary Barra handled the recalls in her first year heading the nation’s largest auto maker.

“I was just so unbelievably impressed with her being so candid about it, so forthright and all of that,” she said. “We think people are much more — they have less of a sense of humor about the auto industry not being as transparent as they needed to be.”

Peters and Miller were among several members of the Michigan Congressional Delegation who toured the show during Monday’s media preview day. The show opens to the public on Saturday.

Both lawmakers said there’s work ahead on roads funding, particularly with more fuel-efficient cars paying less gas tax per mile.

“We need to pass comprehensive transportation funding reform in Congress,” Peters said, adding that he’s working on this as well.

Peters, whose family has a Ford Focus and a Chevrolet Equinox, was especially impressed with the Ford exhibit.

“I was looking at the app at Ford where it’d tell you gas prices at gas stations and how far they are from you, so you can shop for the lowest gas price while you’re driving your car,” he said.

Miller, who arrived Monday in her Ford C-Max hybrid, said it’s exciting to see the buzz at the 2015 show compared with 2009, when a “painful economic transition” was underway.

“Particularly with domestics, they’ve re-engineered, retooled and rehired,” she said. “Life is grand, really. So it’s good.”

Peters said it’s now clear that the January 2009 auto industry bailouts, which included General Motors and Chrysler, were a “huge success.”

Contact Robert Allen at rallen@freepress.com or @rallenMI

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