Optimism Revs Up At GM, Chrysler Plants President Obama visits GM and Chrysler auto plants in Detroit on Friday to call attention to the successes -- so far -- of the bailed-out companies. A White House report says the industry has added 55,000 jobs, GM will stay open during its usual two-week summer shutdown and Chrysler added another production shift.
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Optimism Revs Up At GM, Chrysler Plants

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Optimism Revs Up At GM, Chrysler Plants

Optimism Revs Up At GM, Chrysler Plants

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This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Don Gonyea, in for Steve Inskeep.

A little over a year ago, the struggling U.S. auto industry got a lifeline. General Motors and Chrysler both got government bailouts, went through bankruptcy, and are now much leaner companies. Sales are coming back from the depths of last year.

MONTAGNE: Ron Bloom is the senior adviser to the Treasury secretary, for automobiles. He told a White House briefing yesterday that the auto bailout prevented an even bigger economic disaster.

Mr. RON BLOOM (Senior Counselor to Treasury Secretary for Automobiles): In the year before these bankruptcies, these companies lost almost 340,000 jobs.� In the year since then, 55,000 jobs have been added into these companies. If we hadn't of stepped in when we did, most observers believe at least a million jobs would have been lost.

MONTAGNE: In a moment, we'll talk to a reporter who's covered the auto industry for more than 20 years, to find out what lies ahead.

But first, we'll hear about President Obama's trip to the Detroit area today. He is visiting two auto plants that he's touting as success stories. One is a Chrysler factory and the other, GM.

Sarah Cwiek begins our coverage.

SARAH CWIEK: When visiting here today, President Obama will likely acknowledge that the decision to bail out GM and Chrysler was widely unpopular outside the industrial Midwest. But he's expected to make the case that government investment laid the groundwork for a more competitive auto industry and a stronger national economy.

The president will stop here, at Chrysler's Jefferson North Assembly plant on Detroit's east side. This massive facility is adding 1,100 jobs and a second shift to produce the new Jeep Grand Cherokee.

Bernie Kitter says in the 15 years he's worked at Jefferson North, the shifts have dwindled from three to just one. He hopes the president's visit means the plant is on the upswing.

Mr. BERNIE KITTER (Jefferson North Assembly Plant): The mood's very upbeat, and we're looking forward to him visiting. We've worked very hard to come out of this post-bankruptcy.

CWIEK: One of the provisions of Chrysler's government-sponsored bankruptcy was a shotgun wedding with Italian automaker Fiat. Kitter says the transition to Fiat management has been a smooth one.

Mr. KITTER: Fiat's brought some new technology to Chrysler, as a whole. And then we've implemented a new manufacturing process - world-class manufacturing. And it has made a big difference in the plant. It has made a tremendous difference in the plant.

CWIEK: En route to his second stop - at GM's Hamtramck Assembly plant - the president will pass lots of the abandoned warehouses and decayed factories that now make up much of Detroit's industrial landscape. It's a reminder that even as GM and Chrysler make tentative comebacks, there's still lots of room for a full recovery.

Hamtramck is a small, working-class enclave within the city of Detroit. Nearly everyone here still calls Hamtramck Assembly the Poletown plant, after the neighborhood that was bulldozed to make way for it in the mid-1980s.

Poletown will stay open during the usual two-week summer shutdown to meet growing demand for some GM models. The company is also investing $100 million in Poletown, which is getting ready to produce the much-anticipated Chevy Volt, GM's new electric car.

A little ways north of Poletown, at Cafe 1923, barista Jennifer Pearson says customers offer up lots of opinions about the state of the auto industry.

Ms. JENNIFER PEARSON (Barista, Cafe 1923): It's a big issue around here. I mean, this is - the reason Hamtramck existed was because of the auto industry. And so with the ups and downs, we feel it maybe more than most places.

CWIEK: Despite the good news at Poletown, Pearson says the industry's recent crisis has left Hamtramck with a visible sense of loss. While a White House report touts the 55,000 jobs the industry has added in the past year, that's a small dent in the 334,000 jobs the auto sector shed in 2008 alone.

Mail carrier Tony Wagner says while Michigan is still reeling from the auto crisis, government intervention prevented something far worse.

Mr. TONY WAGNER (Mail Carrier): If you had said, you know, GM and Chrysler are going to go bankrupt, I would have thought this whole state would have completely collapsed into a sinkhole. And it's been bad, but not as bad as I would have expected. So I've got to give a little bit of grudging credit for the way they've pulled it off.

CWIEK: That's exactly the message President Obama wants to hammer home in Detroit, as the White House tries to make the case that government spending is slowly but surely getting the auto industry, and the wider economy, back on track.

For NPR News, I'm Sarah Cwiek in Detroit.

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