As the U.S. automotive industry emerges from one of its worst sales periods on record, factories continue to retool in an effort to make and market vehicles that reflect new customer demands. This strategy is creating jobs in the so-called “green car” industry, but eliminating others.
After 15 years on the assembly line, Detroit autoworker Nicole Current is about to become unemployed.
“I make truck axles, so as the auto industry tries to get away from the larger size vehicles, and tries to get to more fuel efficient, more economical vehicles, and gas prices being where they are with what product we make, it makes it extremely difficult when in the actual economy, people aren’t buying trucks,” Current said.
People are instead buying cars like the gasoline electric hybrid Toyota Prius. Toyoto Communications Manager Greg Thome says it is one of the automaker's most popular models.
“The Prius has done really well. We expect our sales this year to grow incrementally as far as Prius is concerned, because we are growing from one Prius model to a family of four models,” Thome said.
Toyota debuted the more compact Prius C at the 2012 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Michigan.
Thome says the Prius C reflects post-recession customer demand for cheaper vehicles that don’t cost as much to fill up.
“The recession certainly hit all models. Now we’re starting to see a lot of people come back to the market, including for new technology like hybrids and so forth," Thome said.
Almost every manufacturer on the floor of this year’s Detroit Auto Show - from low-end to luxury -- is now marketing fuel-efficient models.
Just as sales of General Motors widely publicized, electric-powered Chevrolet Volt enters a second year, the company is concentrating more on the green vehicle market.
GM’s director of regulatory affairs Mary Beth Stanek says shifting the company's focus away from less fuel-efficient trucks and sport utility vehicles is part of GM’s overall strategy.
“The green aspect has been coming along for some time. Naturally, we want to make sure we have alternatives to petroleum as well. Our business doesn’t want to be dependent on one particular type of energy source. So it moves us as a company to make sure we have a lot of offerings and that we kind of ride out the instability of petroleum pricing,” Stanek said.
Customer demand for smaller and more fuel-efficient cars continues to redefine the U.S. auto economy. That demand is re-opening shuttered facilities, and bringing jobs back to an industry that shed tens of thousands of workers in the last decade.
But it comes as bittersweet news for workers like Nicole Current.
“Although I am losing my job, as a union member, I’m just still one piece of that pie. I definitely believe that we are going in the right direction with the leadership we’ve got in place,” Current said.
Current hopes that leadership can help her find employment in one of the thousands of new positions created by Detroit’s burgeoning green car industry.