Detroit News - We Didn't Give up on Autos

Op-Ed

By:  Debbie Stabenow
Date: Jan. 14, 2011
Location: Unknown

By Senator Debbie Stabenow

Dec. 11, 2008, was the darkest night of my career. The Senate had just failed to pass critical legislation authorizing bridge loans for our automakers.

I went to the floor and gave a speech urging our country not to give up on the Big Three. Demand was down, jobs were being shipped overseas, gas prices were up and then we were hit by a global financial crisis that put our automakers in serious jeopardy.

Some of my friends on the right wanted to blame the labor unions. Some of my friends on the left wanted to blame the companies for building too many SUVs. Too many politicians were too busy pointing fingers and scoring political points to bother considering what would happen if millions of manufacturing jobs in this country disappeared.

Thankfully, we in the Michigan delegation understood that the survival of the auto industry was about saving American manufacturing, and we worked together with two administrations to make sure that our country wouldn't walk away from our American automakers.

The Obama administration took a careful and responsible approach to the restructuring. In exchange for federal support, it decided that GM and Chrysler would need to go through a structured bankruptcy proceeding. When President Obama called our delegation with the news, I told him that if this was the course of action, we needed to show that the country was going to stand behind our companies. He agreed, and we immediately got to work.
I had already started some of this work by passing a retooling loan program in 2007 when gas prices were soaring. This program has helped Ford retool their Wayne plant, which has resulted in jobs coming back from Mexico to Michigan.

We also invested $2 billion in advanced battery manufacturing. I'm proud to say that Michigan has received over half of the funds, making us the undisputed leader in battery technology in America. A year ago, only 2 percent of the world's batteries were made in this country; in four years, we will be building 40 percent of those batteries.

Then in June of 2009, we passed "cash for clunkers," which I was proud to author in the Senate. For weeks, I twisted arms in the Senate to convince my colleagues this would work. It did.

"Cash for clunkers" helped 700,000 cars fly off dealer lots, created 60,000 jobs as auto plants opened second shifts and then third shifts.

This week, our companies are showing off their fantastic new products at the Detroit auto show. I was proud to be there when the Chevy Volt won North American Car of the Year, and to hear that Detroit automakers owned the truck category. Of the three finalists, Chrysler had two nominations and the Ford Explorer took home the award.

We should all be proud that all three of our automakers are profitable, growing and creating jobs. Our country stood by them, and it worked.