The jobs picture in this country remains pretty bleak overall, but there’s one surprising bright spot – the auto industry is on a hiring spree. Auto industry jobs are up 12 percent since 2009, compared to .2 percent across the economy as a whole.
Automakers are getting a lift from consumer interest in fuel-efficient cars, such as the Honda Civic and Chevy Volt. Honda is adding a second shift at its Greensburg, Indiana plant, where Civics are built, and plans to hire 1,000 people by the end of the year. GM is adding 2,500 workers at its Detroit-Hamtramck plant as it increases production of the battery-powered Chevy Volt. The company also announced last year that it was hiring 1,000 engineers and researchers in Michigan to work on electric vehicles. Parts suppliers and other auto-related industries are experiencing a ripple hiring effect as well.
It’s heartening to see Detroit getting back to work. New fuel efficiency standards are giving automakers the signal they need to invest in building more gas sippers like the Volt and the Civic. As these automakers are showing, we can break our dependence on oil without breaking the auto industry. In fact, Detroit has a major role to play shaping our transportation future. We’ll all be driving cars in the forseeable future (but maybe not 2 or 3 or 4 cars per family). The question for Detroit is, what kind of cars will they be? And how will we be using them?
Bill Ford recently spoke about traffic gridlock and his vision of the future, and talked about the need for an evolutionary leap in mobility. He quoted his great-grandfather as saying, before he invented the Model T, "If I had asked people then what they wanted, they would have answered, 'We want faster horses.'"
Ford envisions a smart, connected, multi-modal transportation system. A not-so-distant future where parking spaces and cars can find each other, where roads and traffic signals communicate with cars and trains and buses to eliminate gridlock, cut down on global warming pollution and reduce fuel use. To hear a scion of the Ford Empire talking about a future beyond the automobile is remarkable – and gives us hope that a reinvigorated Detroit can continue to be a part of this future.