More good news for auto industry and Michigan

Published 9:27 pm Monday, December 6, 2010

For the last two years, much attention, both in Michigan and Washington, has focused on the domestic auto industry. It has been a challenging period for those of us who care about a vibrant manufacturing sector.

But in recent weeks, a number of events have made me increasingly confident that, though work surely remains, our automakers are on an upward trend. They are leading in technical innovation and succeeding in financial markets and the automotive marketplace. That’s good news for our state.

The most significant is the Nov. 17 initial public stock offering from General Motors. This stock sale represents GM’s return to the financial markets after its difficult restructuring. It is also another step in returning the investment taxpayers made in the company. GM was able to sell more shares of stock than planned, and at a significantly higher price than it estimated — a notable vote of confidence from investors in the strength of the company’s turnaround.

Later in November, GM’s Hamtramck plant rolled the first Chevrolet Volt plug-in electric vehicles off its assembly line. It was a big moment, not just for GM, but for the future of transportation.

The Volt, which already has won Motor Trend Car of the Year and other major awards, demonstrates that the domestic auto industry is at the forefront of innovation. It’s a testament to the power of visionary thinking. It’s testament to the quality of Michigan workers, who are the best auto workers in the world. And it’s testament to the notion that industry and government can work in partnership to advance the complimentary goals of strengthening our industrial economy and protecting our environment.

The products of our domestic carmakers are increasingly finding favor among consumers. Ford, Chrysler and GM all reported major sales gains in November over the same period a year ago. Ford announced it would increase its planned vehicle production for next year to meet increasing demand.

These signs of progress don’t just make for good headlines. They point to a better future for Michigan families, and not just those who work in the auto industry. The domestic automakers are adding workers to meet increasing demand for their products, and their improving financial pictures is good for workers and their families.

The steps we took in 2008 and 2009 to preserve this cornerstone of the U.S. economy saved well over one million jobs and put these companies in a position to lead us into the next generation of automotive technology. Their success demonstrates the wisdom of the decision to help them through their painful restructuring, despite the criticism and skepticism of those who wanted to abandon our domestic auto industry.

We all know that the last few years have been tough for the domestic auto industry and its workers. And we all know that there is still plenty of work to do, from the assembly line to the corporate offices to the halls of Congress, if we’re to get where we hope to go. But we will get there, a few steps at a time. Every day, in ways large and small, our domestic carmakers and their workers are demonstrating to the doubters that the domestic auto industry can compete and thrive on the global stage.

Carl Levin is the senior U.S. senator from Michigan.