On his visit, which wasn't part of his official schedule, the president took off his jacket and rolled up his sleeves for close looks at the insides of the 2013 Dodge Dart, 2013 Ford Fusion, 2013 Buick Encore, 2013 Ford C-Max Energi and 2013 Chevrolet Malibu with eAssist -- all glowing examples of new American models that get much improved mileage compared to cars Detroit's Big Three churned out before the recession.
Obama's decision early in his presidency to back Detroit by extending billions in loans to General Motors and Chrysler has paid off.
Without mentioning anyone by name, the president has repeatedly pointed out some people opposed the auto industry bailout. But he said previously in Ann Arbor, Mich., while some politicians were willing to let it go, "We said no."
"Let me just say, when you look at all these cars, it is testimony to the outstanding work that's been done by workers -- American workers, American designers. The U.S. auto industry is back. The fact that GM is back, No. 1, I think shows the kind of turnaround that's possible when it comes to American manufacturing," Obama said at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center Tuesday afternoon.
"And it's good to remember that the fact that there were some folks who were willing to let this industry die, because of folks coming together, we are now back in a place where we can compete with any car company in the world. And these are not only selling here in the United States, they also serve as a platform for us to sell product all around the world.
"So I'm just very proud of what we're seeing here. That Camaro with the American Eagle and the American flag -- that helps tell the story."
Obama was shown about 15 new electric and hybrid vehicles by Ford's director of electrification programs and engineering Sharif Marakby, Dodge brand president and chief executive officer Reid Bigland and GM's vice president of global design Ed Welburn.
To the disappointment of some executives of non-U.S. companies, he didn't stop at any foreign vehicles parked nearby, including several made at plants in the United States.
The administration has doubled down on its auto industry bet by proposing to hike fuel economy standards for new cars and trucks to 54.5 mpg by 2025 from 35.4 mph.
The Environmental Protection Agency and National Highway Traffic Administration are holding hearings with final mileage rules expected to be issued before the election.
"We have to wean ourselves off our dependence of foreign oil and look for legitimate alternative fuel sources, whether its electricity, hydrogen [fuel] cells or some combination of gas and electric," Washington Auto Show chairman Robert Fogarty said.
The 10-day Washington show features more than 700 vehicles, a couple hundred more than the North American International Auto Show in Detroit last month. More than 50 new vehicles and concepts were introduced in Motown.
It should be noted shortly before he left office former President George W. Bush got the ball rolling by saving GM and Chrysler with a $25 billion federal bailout. Once in office, Obama added $60 million more and required both automakers to restructure under bankruptcy by shedding debt and dealerships.
The Treasury Department last month told Congress the federal government -- which still owns 26.5 percent of GM Co. and 74 percent of Ally Financial, [formerly GMAC] , the largest U.S. auto lender -- could lose $23.6 billion on that bailout.
The $12.5 billion spent to save Chrysler cost taxpayers $1.3 billion and both bailouts saved about 1 million good-paying jobs at the auto companies and parts suppliers.
GM stock would have to sell for $53 per share for the Treasury to break even on the 500 million shares it holds. GM Co. shares closed at $26.18 Friday.
In 2009, experts initially estimated the government would lose $44 billion on an auto industry bailout.
Ford Motor Co., which mortgaged the farm to avoid bankruptcy in 2009, had its best year since 1998, posting an operating profit of $6.2 billion in North America last year on net income of $20.2 billion. But the net profit was boosted by a one-time $12.4 billion non-cash accounting gain.
That translates to profit-sharing checks averaging $2,448 for hourly workers in March. Many workers got $3,752 before Christmas.
Ford also plans to pay a 5-cent-per-share quarterly dividend in March -- it's first dividend since September 2006.
Made in Detroit
Chrysler reported ending 2011 with $183 million profit, the first full year in the black for the Auburn Hills, Mich., automaker since 1997.
Chrysler, currently owned by Italy's Fiat SpA, reported net income of $225 million in the final quarter of 2011, while improving its U.S. market share to 10.8 percent. Sales improved 22 percent globally.
Chrysler has hired more than 9,400 workers since leaving bankruptcy and repaid its government loans ahead of schedule.
"The house is in good order, We are proud of the work we've done," said CEO Sergio Marchionne in a written statement. "Now we greet a new year of high expectations with our heads down, forging ahead and focused on executing the goals we've set for ourselves as a company."
One of the new cars the president did not see during his sojourn to the Washington Convention Center was the Mopar 75th anniversary edition Chrysler 300.
Chrysler is showing factory customized versions of its 300 sedan, Fiat 500, Jeep Compass and Dodge Dart at the Chicago Auto Show, the world's largest auto show, which begins a 9-day run at the McCormick Place Exposition Center Friday.
Obama's last big American car before he switched to presidential limousines, Marine Corps helicopters and Air Force One was a grey 2005 Chrysler 300C he leased from 2004 until 2007.
Obama put less than 19,000 miles on it before switching to a Ford Escape Hybrid. His old Chrysler was purchased by its current owner, Tim O'Boyle, from a lot.
"He (the new owner) put 1,600 miles on it and once Barack was elected president he stopped driving it," eBay seller Lisa Czibor told ABC News.
Czibor placed the 300 on eBay for the owner with a starting bid of $1 million. She said while there has been interest the auction ended Wednesday with no bids.
"How do you put a price on something like that?" she asked at the start of the auction.
"We're trying to talk him into rerunning it now and making some changes to (the listing)," she told the Chicago Tribune. "Lowering the price, and contacting Obama to find out if there's a charity he'd like us to donate some of the profits to."
The Kelly Blue Book value of the 7-year-old Chrysler is $14,500 to $17,000.
Fox News says the same car was up for auction on eBay in 2008 with a starting bid of $100,000, but failed to sell when pranksters bid the price to $1 billion.
A 1975 Ford once owned by Pope John Paul II sold for $690,000, ABC said.
Chrysler plans to build 500 of the limited edition 300 sedans in Canada and offer them for $49,700 a copy this summer.
The aftermarket performance Mopar edition boasts 0-60 acceleration in the low 5-second range.
If a new car is not in the budget anytime soon, Kelly Blue Book recently listed the Top-10 used cars for less than $8,000.
2008 KIA RIO, $7,895
2004 FORD CROWN VICTORIA, $7,970
2003 MAZDA PROTEGE5, $7,360
2002 TOYOTA TUNDRA STANDARD CAB, $5,925
2003 FORD ESCAPE, $7,560
2004 SCION XA, $7,805
2004 PONTIAC VIBE, $7,630
2002 TOYOTA COROLLA, $6,125
2002 INFINITI G20, $5,965
2004 HONDA CIVIC, $7,970