U.S. auto companies make big comeback

The major Detroit automakers, GM, Ford and Chrysler, are all operating their factories at 100 percent capacity, according to a new report by the Detroit News.

Kai Ryssdal: Saw this in the Detroit News today. That the Big 3 carmakers' North American factories are working at 100 percent capacity. Around the clock, on three full shifts.

Quite a change from just a couple of years ago, as Dan Bobkoff reports.


Dan Bobkoff: Flash back to the end of 2008. The auto industry was in a tailspin. The GM plant in Lordstown, Ohio, laid off the majority of its workers. David Green says it felt bleak.

David Green: There were helicopters flying over, people walking through taking inventory. We were really under the impression that we were very close to liquidating what we had.

Green is president of United Auto Workers Local 1714, whose members make the Chevy Cruze. He says these days, the Lordstown plant employs 1,500 and operates around the clock.

Sean McAlinden of the Center for Automotive Research says with U.S. sales up 14 percent this year, carmakers will have to make some changes.

Sean McAlinden: They may have to reconsider not only hiring more workers, brand new workers, but also reopening one of the plants they shut down.

He says the Big 3 closed many factories in recent years, making the companies more profitable, but they could run out of capacity by 2015.

And, there’s this:

McAlinden: You know, we have other problems. They’re called Europe.

About half of U.S. carmakers’ sales are overseas. McAlinden says their European sales are down about as much as domestic sales are up.

But those worries don’t dampen the mood at plants like GM’s Lordstown. David Green says workers have a very different attitude today.

Green: People are pretty upbeat. I mean we have a future here.

And that’s a remarkable turnaround in itself.

In New York, I’m Dan Bobkoff for Marketplace.

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