How Michigan is Working to Keep Auto Jobs

In the 20th Century, the road to the American Dream began in Michigan. Our state not only put the nation on wheels, but well-paying jobs in the auto industry helped create the broad middle-class prosperity that made our country the envy of the world.

Today, both the American auto industry and the middle class are facing wrenching challenges. And again the road to a stronger future for our country will begin in Michigan—where electric vehicles produced by a leaner, greener auto industry will reduce our dangerous addiction to foreign oil. In February, Americans spent $13 billion on oil imported from foreign governments—including places that threaten our own national interests. Our dependence on imported oil threatens our economic prosperity, our national security and, in a very real sense, the future of our planet.

With this tremendous threat comes an equally great opportunity: to replace our gas-powered fleet with a new generation of electric and plug-in electric vehicles. These new vehicles won't just take us to and from work and around town. Since the batteries in these cars can also be used to store the carbon-free energy that can be harnessed by home-based solar cells and wind turbines, these vehicles could dramatically transform the way we light and heat our homes. In a real sense, your car battery could be your home's energy-storage center. It will take time to realize this revolution in energy technology. But the electric vehicles that will make it all possible are just over the horizon.

For automakers, replacing the internal-combustion engine with an electric powertrain is both revolutionary and daunting. In a world where economic Darwinism threatens slow adapters with extinction, U.S. automakers know that they can either lead this historic transformation or become history themselves. Even today, as they engage in a struggle to survive, the Big Three are leading the way: General Motors, Ford and Chrysler are scheduled to introduce electrified vehicles next year.

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General Motors plans to make lithium-ion battery packs to power the Chevy Volt, which is expected to earn a fuel-economy rating of more than 100 miles a gallon. As Ford celebrates the sale of the 100,000th electric-hybrid Escape, it is preparing to introduce a full line of new hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles. Chrysler, too, is electrifying its product lines. Together, they're transforming themselves and making us into a nation less reliant on foreign oil.

In his "tough love" message to the auto companies last week, President Obama stressed the vital importance of creating a new electric auto industry in this country. His administration is not only providing critical support to the industry as it undergoes an unprecedented restructuring, but it is also investing in making America the leader in the technologies that will power this new generation of vehicles. In February, President Obama's administration announced $2 billion in grants from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act directed to the development of advanced batteries that will move the United States toward energy independence by putting 1 million American-made plug-in hybrid vehicles on the road by 2015.

These advanced electric car batteries today are made by a small handful of companies in Asia. But America cannot trade dependence on foreign oil for dependence on foreign-made batteries. In Michigan, we are doing everything we can to become the home of this new electric auto industry—and to the jobs this industry will create. We've adopted unprecedented tax incentives to make sure that auto batteries are not only designed but produced and assembled in our state. Our No Worker Left Behind training initiative is giving displaced manufacturing workers the skills they need for "green jobs." We are tapping our world-class research universities and the 330 automotive research-and-development facilities in Michigan to develop the breakthrough technologies that will produce that next engine.

As auto-industry leaders continue to make tough decisions in the face of an evolving global economy, we must diversify our nation's industrial base. Clean-energy technology—in particular, the development and production of lithium-ion batteries—holds enormous potential for job creation. None of us knows for sure just what the economy will look like when we emerge from this recession. What we do know is that the automobile market will have changed dramatically. Consumer demand for fuel-efficient cars will accelerate, and federal policies will make electric vehicles inevitable. All of us should want those cars to be built in America.

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That will be good news, not only for the American workers who will build them but all of us who care about preserving America's middle-class way of life.

How Michigan is Working to Keep Auto Jobs | News