Clean cars create jobs. The Big Three automakers, addicted to the profits they made off big SUVs, saw economic ruin in subcompacts, hybrids and — heaven forbid — battery electrics. But now they’re all building them — even Chrysler.
In the first half of 2012, we had the most fuel-efficient fleet of new passenger vehicles ever, averaging 23.8 mpg (up 1.1 mpg from 2011). The auto industry has had some setbacks (and Europe is a bother), but mostly it’s recovered from 2009 and is on track to sell 14.1 million cars this year (up 1.4 million from 2011).
And it’s working! The American automakers aren’t going bankrupt (again), but are instead reporting profits. They managed to hold their noses and produce compacts, hybrids and tech breakthroughs like the Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid. Ironically, the biggest headaches these international players have are in Europe, where the recession means that people aren’t buying cars. If they did buy them, they’d be tiny. SUVs? The main life there is in crossovers, built on relatively small car platforms.
The Natural Resources Defense Council is out with a new report noting that the American auto industry has added 236,600 jobs since it hit bottom in June of 2009. Some 165,100 jobs were in manufacturing, and 71,500 at dealerships.
Saving Michigan: Let’s give the Obama administration a bit of credit for what happened in hard-hit Rust Belt state Michigan, which has added 35,200 jobs since 2009. Obama takes a bow because his $2.4 billion Department of Energy advanced battery program made a disproportionate number of its awards to Michigan-based companies, or those willing to site factories there. You could argue that the best technology should have won over geographical location, but the results were nevertheless a shot in the arm for the state.
Hoosier heaven: OK, maybe everything isn’t perfect in Indiana, but a recent trip to Indianapolis turned up a lot of optimism there. And why not, with 19,800 new auto jobs (a third of all those added in the period) since 2009? Among the good news for the state is Honda’s $40 million investment at its plant in Greensburg, Ind. That alone counts for 300 new hires. And what are they making? The Honda Civic Hybrid.
Ohio’s comeback: Ohio has Honda plants, too, and I visited them in Marysville and East Liberty. Marysville recently built its 10 millionth Honda (at right). One of the things I remember from my tour is how green the plants were, with water-based paint shops and a farmers market out front. And another thing I recall is that auto plants create spin-off employment from the suppliers that hover around them. They teach Japanese in the Columbus schools for a reason — there’s something like 100 Japanese companies operating in Ohio, acting as pilot fish to the big plants. Every job has the potential to create another one. The state also has GM’s Lordstown Assembly plant in Warren. What are they making? The fuel-efficient Chevy Cruze, a pretty big hit for the company, with an Eco model that gets 42 mpg on the highway. Lordstown is running three shifts, added 1,200 workers and now employs 4,200.
According to Frank Szollosi of the National Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes Regional Center, “People in Ohio want clean air and clean water — and we can have both by bringing in clean car manufacturing jobs. And it’s happening, 11,300 auto jobs have come back to Ohio since the industry hit bottom.” Of course, you do have to ask why those citizens who want clean water and air in Rust Belt states often elect politicians who consistently vote against them, but that’s another story, isn’t it?
And now let's take a trip back in time to Minnesota in 2009, when a group of fresh-faced, idealistic kids were lobbying for clean car legislation. They want it, and they know they need it, too: