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Colossus of Roads, Pt. 2

  It’s almost hard to fathom now, but back in the bitter winter of 2008-2009 we were all hunkered down and wondering when the next titanic economic shoe would drop and what it would break. The largest banks in the country were gathered in an intensive care ward at the U.S. Treasury, tethered to a lifeline from the Federal Reserve, which was funneling an infusion of cash directly from Treasury’s mammoth printing presses. The housing market disappeared into a black hole of foreclosures and collapsing prices. Two years later, it still shows no signs of life. The question looming over the U.S. automotive industry was not whether one (or two) of Detroit’s Big Three was about to sink forever into the tar pits of history, but which one would get liquidated first. In fact, we were so convinced that General Motors was toast, we wrote an obituary for the nation’s auto behemoth ( in this very space. When Congress and President Obama bailed out General Motors and Chrysler later that year, the conventional wisdom said that this was nothing more than a soon-to-be permanent federal welfare program for the United Auto Workers. General Motors would continue to wither and die, most of us said, while we subsidized assembly lines building cars that no one would buy. But a lot of us forgot something important. While America was shivering in its worst economic chill since the Great Depression, it was still filled with Americans. And Americans don’t give up. So we’re ordering a hefty helping of crow for lunch today, with a side of feathers and crow pudding for dessert. General Motors has emerged from its federally assisted bankruptcy restructuring not only firing on all cylinders, but revving up its engines and aiming for the top of the global automotive mountain it used to rule like an emperor. As reported in our Breaking News section this week, the U.S. auto goliath has put its house in order with a new UAW contract that dramatically cuts its production costs. It has shed dozens of redundant plants and dealerships. Now it is preparing to transform its U.S. production network into a lean, mean automotive machine with a $2-billion upgrade of 17 plants in eight states. The plant upgrade alone will secure 4,000 jobs, a third of which will bring workers off the unemployment lines and back onto the assembly lines. Profits are surging at GM ($3.2 billion in just the first quarter of this year) and domestic market share is being recovered (up to […]