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What Detroit's Doing Right

By Mike Cox
Monday, January 12, 2009

America's Big Three automakers got pounded on Capitol Hill last month. Senators from both parties took turns ridiculing General Motors, Ford and Chrysler as out-of-touch fossils, churning out poor-quality products that virtually no one wants to buy.

Wouldn't it be nice if America's automakers actually made cars that customers wanted? New hybrids, for example, and electric vehicles, midsize cars that rank high in quality and more models that get 30 miles per gallon?

Actually, that's exactly what Detroit is doing. Not in a couple of years, not next year, but now.

I invite every member of the U.S. Senate to come visit the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, which opened yesterday. Here is a sample of what they would see:

· The brand-new Ford Fusion Hybrid, which is the most fuel-efficient midsize car in America, averaging 41 miles per gallon.

· Chevy's new midsize Malibu, which gets 33 miles per gallon -- better than the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Nissan Altima.

· Three new electric vehicles from Chrysler, including a gasoline-electric minivan and Jeep model and an all-electric sports car.

Here are a few other facts for the doubters:

· This model year, Detroit will make more than 137 vehicles that get 30 miles per gallon or more.

· The Big Three will also sell 25 hybrid models, 38 versions of flex-fuel vehicles and eight models that run on clean diesel.

· Ford and GM tied for the leadership position in the prestigious 2008 J.D. Power Initial Quality Study -- with 11 models ranked in the top three of their respective segments.

Despite the public scolding recently heaped on the Big Three in Washington, Ford and GM still make the top-selling vehicles in the country, the Ford F-150 truck and the Chevy Silverado.

Senators who think Detroit is still stuck in the dinosaur age may be shocked to learn that the Big Three are the leading purchasers of computer chips nationwide. In fact, GM, Ford and Chrysler are making cutting-edge vehicles featuring the latest in technology, engineering and fuel economy. Detroit's automakers spend $12 billion annually on research and development. No other industry can match that.

More changes are needed, and the Big Three understand that their pace of change must be accelerated. But the last thing our economy needs right now is for 13 million jobs to be threatened. One out of every 10 jobs in America is related to the auto industry. That's why President Bush wisely agreed to release funds as a loan -- not a bailout -- to help the auto industry get through this Wall Street credit crunch.

America's auto industry is building some of the safest, most fuel-efficient, technologically advanced vehicles in the world. That will be on display at this month's auto show in Detroit. As many have said: Facts are stubborn things. Unfortunately, the facts about America's auto manufacturers may have run up against something even more stubborn -- the U.S. Senate.

The writer is attorney general of Michigan.

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