While Detroit is going bust, the US auto industry is booming

Sep 4, 2013

There is no small touch of irony in the fact that as Detroit filed for bankruptcy, the U.S. car makers are enjoying boom times. Sales for the Big Three in July were the highest in seven years. GM, Ford and Chrysler are adding shifts and hiring workers. Good times.

But not for the city that gave birth to what we know as the U.S. auto industry.

Tom Walsh, business columnist for the Detroit Free Press, and Sonari Glinton, National Desk Reporter from NPR who has covered transportation and the auto industry, joined us today.

“There’s not a lot of actual cars being made inside the city of Detroit, and so those workers aren’t working there, and often those people are taking those jobs and moving to the suburbs,” said Glinton. “All of this money that you would get from property tax dollars from commercial development isn’t happening in the city of Detroit. It’s happening outside.”

It is a common misconception that the auto industry is based in Detroit. Only GM has its headquarters inside of the city.

“Detroit is the Motor City. Detroit is Motown. The whole connection with automobiles is so ingrained in the national psyche, the national consciousness, that it is hard to separate the two,” said Walsh.

"We do have to remind ourselves that these are global companies that have spans across the world,” said Glinton. “The U.S. auto industry has moved southward away from Detroit at the same time that the U.S. based automotive industry accounts for less of the GDP than it would have when Detroit was at its height."

So is it time to step away from the “Motor City” stuff? Maybe, but maybe not.

“Mobility is such a big part of what’s going on in the future of our economy,” said Glinton. “It’s not looking backwards to think about how are people going to be moving from one place to another. No matter what happens we still need to transport ourselves, and I think that there’s a lot of great thinking, a lot of innovative thinking that’s happening at the U.S. auto companies, and there’s a lot of that that’s happening around Detroit.”

- Michelle Nelson, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Listen to the full interview above.