It seems like a lifetime ago, but in the not-too-distant past, California was a thriving center of auto manufacturing, home to three different GM assembly plants and two Ford factories.
But by 1992, four of these plants had been shuttered. More than 10,000 jobs with good wages and solid benefits evaporated, making it that much tougher for working-class Californians to enjoy a secure middle-class lifestyle. Today the last vestige of traditional, big-name auto manufacturing is about to disappear: The lone remaining GM plant, which had become a GM-Toyota joint venture, will shut down in 2010, taking with it another 4,500 jobs in the Fremont area.
The state’s golden era of manufacturing may be over, but nevertheless, California remains at the vanguard of auto design. Today there is an opportunity to build on that strength. If we move quickly and decisively, we can reclaim a leading role in car-making—one that looks toward the future rather than trying to recreate what we’ve lost in the past. By actively courting not just the design operations but also the building of alternative-fuel and electric vehicles, California can become a hub of green manufacturing.