DETROIT, MICHIGAN — U.S. automakers have much to celebrate at this year’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
Fueled by growing sales and increased production, the industry has made a dramatic turnaround since hovering on the brink of collapse less than five years ago.
Taking a chance
Facing bankruptcy in 2009, Chrysler was grappling with the fate of its assets, including the Sterling Heights Assembly Plant where Charles Archard worked.
“Me and my wife both worked in the plant," Archard said. "She took the buyout. I stayed there. But there was a 50/50 chance that it could have went bankrupt. I took that chance.”
It paid off. Chrysler not only reversed its decision to close Sterling Heights, but also added another shift. At this year’s North American International Auto Show, the company announced that workers like Archard will soon be building a new mid-size sedan at the plant, which will offer job security for the foreseeable future.
“And then we found out a billion dollars is going to be put into the plant for new vehicles and everything, so it was great,” Archard said.
'The auto industry is back'
Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow represents the state of Michigan and says the Chrysler announcement is an example of how the U.S. auto industry's success is reflected in this year’s auto show.
“We’re back. This auto industry, the home team from Michigan, is back," Stabenow said. “Today we are seeing not only fuel economy, but great engineering, design, technology.”
One example of the change was evident at an event for General Motor’s Chevrolet brand. Instead of showcasing smaller, fuel-efficient cars, the automaker rolled out a new version of the snazzy Chevrolet Corvette, a high performance car that consumes a lot of gas and carries a high price tag.
“I think you’re going to find that we definitely are profiling our newest, latest, greatest, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t have a lot of emphasis on fuel efficiency across the board,” said Christi Landy of General Motors.
In fact, Landy says sales of fuel-efficient compacts like the Chevrolet Spark and Sonic are up 10 percent this year from last year.
At a news conference for Chevrolet’s competitor, Ford, CEO Alan Mulally predicted an even greater market for such vehicles.
“We expect small vehicles to represent more than half of our total global sales by the end of this decade," Mulally said, "with nearly one third of all of our sales coming from Asia Pacific.”
That’s good news for Ford workers. But the state of Michigan, home of the U.S. auto industry, still has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country about 9 percent.
While some jobs are returning as the industry rebounds, it's only a fraction of the number of jobs lost during the region’s long economic decline.