While the appearance was controversial, dealers warmly received Clinton as she gave an hour-long speech to a near-packed house.
Clinton talked about a variety of subjects including Benghazi, running for president in 2016 and the Obama's "bailout" of the automobile industry in April of 2009.
NADA's chief economist, Steven Szakaly, yesterday sang the praises of the automobile industry at the same convention, citing increasing home values, residential housing construction and rising employment as key factors that will drive the US economy and increased automobile sales in 2014.
"These factors are also critical to maintaining the pace of auto sales growth, which has been an integral part of the economic recovery," said Szakaly at the NADA Convention & Expo in New Orleans.
"Consumers will be far better off in 2014 than last year," Szakaly added. "Employment is improving, debt has been reduced and home prices across all regions of the country will remain stable or will rise, creating a positive wealth effect."
Hillary Clinton agreed with Szakaly.
She defended her support of the auto industry bailout in a question-and-answer session with David Westcott, outgoing chairman of NADA.
"This was a tough set of choices that those of us in the Congress faced," she. "I became convinced with information I was presented by the [George W. Bush] administration, especially [then Secretary of the Treasury] Hank Paulson."
She said Paulson convinced her of the need for the bailout when he said: "We have to take steps to prevent a collapse that was worse than the Great Depression."
"I know the NADA lost dealerships, lost jobs at the core of a lot of communities. But the overall picture turned out to be positive."
"Building and selling cars to a great extent created the American middle class. The resurgence of the auto industry over the past few years has been a driving force behind our economic recovery. It's not only that. I know the dealers here and across our country play a vital role in communities. Before coming here, I checked employment figures. Employment at dealerships is on the rise -- up more than 3 percent over the last year."
Clinton is also excited that General Motors picked Mary Barra as CEO.
"I'm excited about GM's new CEO. You might guess I would be. I guess you could say she broke through the steel ceiling, not the glass ceiling. Her father spent four decades as a GM die maker. I can't imagine he dreamed his daughter would head the company," said Clinton.
Clinton -- former first lady, U.S. senator from New York and U.S. secretary of state -- largely steered clear of controversial issues in an hour-long, non-partisan speech filled with anecdotes about her experiences in public life.
However, after the speech, Clinton met with the press.
During a Q&A portion reported by MSNBC, Clinton discussed her 2016 presidential plans. She said, "I don’t know—not a very satisfactory answer I know. We have a lot of issues right now that need to be dealt with"
Adding, "I'm not thinking about it. I’m trying to get other people not to think about it."
But promising, "I will think about it in the future sometime, but right now let’s think about what we have o do to continue building on our success."
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