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Carolyn Presutti | Detroit 29 July 2010
Scene inside an US auto plant
President Obama visits two Michigan auto plants on Friday. Over the last two years the administration has been instrumental in propping up the U.S. car industry - by approving billions in government loans after bankruptcies and management changes.
Henry Torgl may be enjoying Detroit baseball and a beer, but questions about a special Friday visitor are on everyone's mind.
Torgl just finished a 13-hour shift at the Detroit Chrysler plant that President Obama will visit on Friday. "Everyone's excited, you know. Meet the president, chance to see him. I mean, it's exciting," he said.
Torgl says some of his co-workers credit Mr. Obama with saving the auto industry. The President took a personal interest in restructuring Chrysler and General Motors, following two of the largest bankruptcies in U.S. history - less than a year after he had proposed billions of dollars in government loans. "We are appreciative, at least I am, that he gave us the loan. Remember, it's a loan, we are paying it back, it's not like the banks. But if it wasn't for the taxpayers, I mean, we wouldn't be here," he said.
Torgl's plant makes the Jeep Grand Cherokee, under the supervision of plant manager Pat Walsh. It's the last urban car plant left in Detroit.
Last September, this plant shut down for a month for a total transformation. The idea was to create a World Class Manufacturing facility, like in the 1990s, when car production was high. But no contractors were brought in; no one was laid off. These workers stayed inside and did the conversion themselves, building loyalty and pride.
"We knew this was our plant. We could change over our plant to something we could be proud of and really be the first steps to launch the new 2011 Grand Cherokee," said Walsh.
The president's second stop is at the General Motors plant that manufactures the Chevrolet Volt, an electric and gas-powered vehicle that some say might revolutionize the industry.
Ed LeBlanc has worked for GM for 13 years. Last year his wife returned to school to study nursing as a back-up to his salary.
In May, General Motors reported its first quarterly profit in three years, with $865 million in net income. LeBlanc thinks the President's visibility with the Volt will propel GM to more profitability. "I think the Volt is the most technically-advanced machine, car, on the road right now, I just hope the public jumps on the bandwagon," he said.
The public response could be known soon. On Tuesday, dealers in seven areas began taking orders for the Volt.