Just three years removed from a taxpayer-funded, multi-million dollar federal government bailout from crushing debt accumulated via poor sales and ever-increasing costs due to employee benefits, United States auto companies continue to show signs of progress and growth by posting more positive financial numbers. After Chrysler announced profits in excess of $100 million for 2011 nearly two weeks ago, General Motors followed this week with news that their profits exceeded $400 million, with its workers seeing a multi-thousand dollar bonus paycheck from the company itself. The third manufacturer of the “Big Three”, Ford Motor Company, has also seen profits and employee numbers rise, despite being the only one of the three to not take bailout funds during the recent economic recession.
The economic news follows weeks of political jousting about the issue of the auto bailouts, including the Republican Presidential Primary, where most major candidates campaigned against the prospect of the bailouts, even through Michigan, one of the hardest hit states in the recession and the historical home of the American auto industry. Voters in the primary, however, were less liable to be against the bailouts than the candidates, where despite the job losses and slow recovery, 40-percent of primary voters still favored the auto bailout.
In another state hit hard by the recession, Ohio, Democrats released a study that claimed more than 200,000 jobs have been created by the auto industry since the federal bailouts. Though national pollings still indicates that a majority of voters across the country still oppose the bailouts, the narrow margin has some politicians convinced that the issue could be turned around and used as positive reinforcement to drive more people to the polls this coming November. Vice President Biden also travelled to Ohio in an attempt to turn the issue around, and raise support for the administration’s actions by tying them to recent employment increases in the manufacturing sector.
Even related-industries such as American auto dealers have reported better news and numbers than the past few years, with dealers reporting increased sales, revenue, and profit from just a year ago. However, those numbers come with an asterisk, as the number of dealers in the United States has dropped 12% since the auto bailout. Overseas news was also not ideal for automakers, especially General Motors, who reported losses in both Europe and South America. Europe’s economy has been much slower to recover from the worldwide recession, and has continued to struggle in the face of bankruptcy and even possible national default in Greece and Spain.
With the 2012 national election still 8 months away, it’s impossible to tell yet what shifting auto fortunes associated with the economy will have on the to-be-determined slate of candidates. With such a swing in poll numbers recently, voters seem likely to move in one direction or the other before November. Independents are especially split on the issue, with nearly 50% falling on either side of the argument. As a barometer of the larger economic recovery, and the methods used to achieve it, this issue will doubtless remain a national factor in the Presidential campaign for months to come.