[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/05/19/intv.bernero.art.jpg caption="Mayor Virg Bernero says the U.S. needs to do more to save the domestic auto industry."]
With GM and Chrysler closing dealerships across the country, thousands of autoworkers face an uncertain future. Virg Bernero, the mayor of Lansing, Michigan is in Washington speaking out about the personal impact of the auto industry's troubles.
This comes as the Obama administration unveils today the first-ever national fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks. Mayor Bernero spoke to Kiran Chetry on CNN’s “American Morning” Tuesday.
Kiran Chetry: You're in Washington trying to spread awareness about the impact that this failed U.S. auto industry situation is having on Americans and towns across America. General Motors has until the end of this month to decide whether it will file for bankruptcy. Some experts say it's inevitable. What type of impact will we see in cities and towns across the country if another automaker is forced to file for bankruptcy?
Virg Bernero: We're here with mayors and workers and dealers from around the country not just to whine and complain but to talk about the impact of this industry across the country. It is major. It’s millions of jobs across the country. It’s more than Detroit. It’s more than Lansing. It’s more than Michigan. But it is millions of jobs. The supply chain across the country, and of course the suppliers are already teetering on the edge. And a bankruptcy for GM could threaten the supply chain for the entire domestic auto industry. Look, we're calling it a teach-in. But the reality is the American people already know what we're here to teach Congress and the administration, which is the importance of this administration and the fact is the best stimulus is a stimulating job.
We need to have American production stimulated. We need a “cash for clunkers” bill that stimulates people to buy American vehicles. It doesn’t make any sense to stimulate people to give them money to buy foreign cars. We need American workers to be put first. We need the American industry to be put first. So we call it a teach-in, but as I say the American public knows the score. We need to put American workers first. And so far what we've seen… when we look at other countries, we see other countries like France, when they helped their auto industry… Renault had to bring jobs back to France. And here we are subsidizing our industry, which we're for, we’re all for supporting our industry, but the industry needs to support American jobs…
Chetry: I know the situation certainly is less than ideal. Notices went out to dealerships across the country that Chrysler and GM were going to be forced to cut some franchises. There's a lot of local anger. We've talked about how a lot of these car dealerships really made up the fabric of the community. Jack Fitzgerald from Fitzgerald Auto Malls expressed a lot of anger about the situation:
“We're not like Detroit. We don't live in an insulated world all by ourselves with the government taking care of us. We have to earn our way. The government doesn't give me any money. The government doesn't do anything for me except it looks like they're trying to put me out of business with these insane people from Detroit.”
Bernero: Look, I agree with the guy. We need real support for our industry. We need an Apollo-style commitment to the cleaner, greener cars of the future. But what I see is more regulation coming from Washington. I don't necessarily see the kind of help and support that they need. I don't see fair trade, which we clearly need. We're operating on an un-level playing field. There’s no question about that. We're playing by one set of the rules and the rest of the world is playing by another. You know, as I say, when the French helped their company, they said, you've got to put production here.
These so-called viability plans that are being thrust by Wall Street on GM and Chrysler… they may create a more viable company but they don't create viable communities. They don’t create viability for the American worker or for the American communities. These programs are forcing them to subsidize. We are subsidizing, outsourcing of American jobs. It's unheard of. No industrialized country is doing that…
Chetry: If you had to distill this down to one message you want people to hear and you want the decision makers in Washington to hear about what's going on in the auto industry, what would that be?
Bernero: We need to do more than save the company. We need to save the domestic auto industry. It makes no sense for us to subsidize and help prop up Chrysler and GM if all they're doing is outsourcing and moving the jobs overseas. We need Americans working. We are the most productive workers in the world. There’s no question about that. Look at the products that we make. We're making better cars than ever before. The Cadillac CTS Motor Trend Car of the Year made in Lansing, Michigan. We make great cars. We have to put the “P” back in GDP – gross domestic product. We have to make things.
Chetry: How do you think these stricter fuel economy standards that are being unveiled today are going to affect the American auto industry – help or hurt?
Bernero: I know that's the big story today, but the fact is really it's a sleeper to me. It’s a yawner, because this is where the industry was headed anyway. We were talking about by 2016 – you think they wouldn't have had 35 mpg by 2016? They were already headed in that direction. This is where the industry is going. At least I’ll say this for the federal government – they’re applying it equally to everybody unlike the trade agreements, which favor our foreign competitors.