Five years ago this month, Detroit automakers fanned out across Capitol Hill and much of Washington, warning that without immediate federal help at least one of them would collapse, setting off a chain of dominos that could cost up to 1 million jobs. Many inside and out of Detroit opposed the idea; one potential Republican presidential candidate even wrote an op-ed with the headline "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt." And Congress veered between castigating Detroit for its mistakes and worrying about how to pay for the billions of dollars the companies sought.
Five years later, there's no other word to describe the U.S. auto industry than "thriving." It employed almost exactly as many Americans to build cars, trucks and parts — roughly 822,000, by federal data — last month as it did in October 2008, before the Great Recession closed factories and sent sales plunging. All three Detroit automakers will earn more than $1 billion in profits this year, and thousands of UAW workers at each stand to get sizable profit-sharing bonuses.
Yet the debate over bailout and its effects linger, and for some has never stopped. Within a matter of months, the U.S. Treasury will sell off its last shares of General Motors, closing the books with a loss of roughly $10 billion. Chrysler's future rests on solving a puzzle built into its rescue as a compromise between the government, Fiat and the UAW. And for all that the bailout promised to change, Detroit's profits still lie with the models that made money before the great collapse.Read More »from Five years on, GM and Chrysler roar past the bailout’s echoes