Ghosts Along the Assembly Line – The Upper Midwest Edition

In the last State of the Union address, President Barack Obama proclaimed that the automotive industry in the U.S.A. is "back." Some may argue that the industry's return to prominence has not been fully realized, but there are signs that it is on the upswing.

However, this is not the same automotive industry of my childhood. Nor is it the same industry of my ancestors. Progress in manufacturing and an emphasis on globalization changed the way we view the manufacture of automobiles. On one hand, it had helped North America by the opening of production centers by non-Detroit-based automobile corporations.

On the flip side, the strategy of bringing the automobile closer to its marketplace through localized manufacturing plants evolved to accommodate a wider offering of products and advances in transportation and technology to eliminate the need for extra production capacity. Since the 1970s, this meant losses in manufacturing jobs and idle facilities – some reborn into other uses.

There are now generations of Americans who have forgotten that there was a mighty production facility in their community. Though some of them have not seen the wrecking ball, others either resemble a lay of wasteland or have been built to unrecognizable specifications.

There are some manufacturing facilities that continue to produce automobiles. They are imposing sites, sprawling for acres with telltale signs of industrial might. These continue to fuel the engine of the American economy.

A tour of these facilities – operational or otherwise – is in order. I will start just a few miles from home…

The Class of 1982: The Franco-American Affair

If divine foreign intervention did not come in time for an American automaker, the company in question would have probably ceased to exist by 1982.

It is an audacious statement to make where history was thwarted to save a company from extinction. We've seen this many times over the past 30 years where Detroit-based automakers sought alliances and acquisitions with other automakers around the globe. To recall each one would be a massive effort to digest and analyze. Yet, most of the readers of this site have probably forgotten the scenario that put American Motors on the brink before Renault came in to assist them through most of the 1980s.