The Auto Industry Just Built More Than 100,000 Green Jobs

Why haven’t we heard about this…and how do we get more of it?

Photo by Zoe Lipman

Over the last few weeks, the national debate has been even more all-about-jobs than usual.  But one story isn’t getting the play it deserves.

The auto industry is firing on all cylinders*, and its current successes suggest answers for a lot of pundits: on investment, on green jobs, on regulation, and on how if you just dug yourself out of a hole, you don’t throw away the shovel … you keep building.

Photo by Zoe Lipman

Anyone who’s looked recently at TV, a magazine, or an auto dealer’s lot, knows that there’s a renaissance happening in cars and trucks. New, cool, energy-efficient, technologically-advanced, beautifully-designed, American-made cars and trucks are everywhere – from affordable highly efficient small cars like the Chevy Cruze, to a burst of electric and partially electric cars, to the redesign of Americas bestselling vehicle, the Ford F150, so that its 25% cleaner, 50% badder, and selling better than ever.

Meanwhile the auto industry (not just the big assemblers, but the hundreds of companies in the auto supply chain) is bit by bit reopening factories, putting back jobs in advanced traditional technologies and in new batteries and electronics.  Times are still tough,  but after a decade in which Michigan – with a total population of 9 million – lost 1 million jobs, Newsweek last month ranked Michigan the best state in the nation for job growth and Michigan led the nation last year in clean energy patents.

And it isn’t just Michigan – our gradual national recovery is resting heavily on auto, with economic statistics more often than not sporting disclaimers like “led by auto production.”  The brass tacks?  The latest BLS data shows that the auto industry added almost 60,000 jobs over the past 20 months in automotive and auto parts manufacturing, while auto and parts sales added another 60,000+ over the same time period. On the manufacturing side, that’s 5% per year employment growth, and auto sales are projected to rise  9% this year. We need these gains to continue and we need to see them across the whole economy.

Fast selling Cruzes head off the lot in Lordstown, Ohio. Photos: NWF/Lipman

And on top of all this, the auto industry is on track to achieve very large environmental and energy security gains – to go green while staying in the black. The cars and trucks being built today through 2025 to meet strong new and proposed fuel efficiency standards will enable America to cut oil use by 3.4 million barrels a day – enough to more than replace what we import from Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Nigeria.  Under the new standards, the industry also takes a major step forward in addressing climate change – cutting carbon pollution by over 600 million metric tons a year by 2030 – the equivalent of 10% of total US carbon pollution today.

Finally, more efficient cars and trucks will bring big savings to families and businesses (even after accounting for the cost of new technology) and put hundreds of billions of dollars that currently flow out of the country for oil, back to work building jobs in America.

So how do we get more of this?

  1. Rebuilding manufacturing works.  And when we manufacture clean, efficient, competitive technology the gains only increase
  2. Innovation, investment and leading environmental laws – together -deliver growth. They work separately too, but they work better together.  And doing nothing shouldn’t be an option.
  3. It’s not just batteries, stupid! Some technologies serve whole industries. Major technology challenges aren’t a secret, and America can lead again in solving them. 
  4. Green is the new grey:  There’s more green, more competitiveness and more jobs as we transform the powerhouse industries we know.

Check out the details on #1-#4  as the series continues…

*Actually, selectively firing on fewer cylinders is one of many innovations bringing better fuel efficiency to new cars and trucks. Cylinder deactivation or variable displacement systems reduce the number of cylinders an engine uses (saving gas) when power requirements are low, while seamlessly moving to all 6 or 8 cylinders when they need full power.  For more on the technologies that are delivering fuel savings while still delivering premium power and performance see NWF’s new report on truck standards and technology, Trucks that Work.

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Published: September 21, 2011