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Auchter's Art: What would Michigan be like with no auto industry?

Jan 13, 2017

The Amazon TV-series The Man in the High Castle explores an America in which the Allies lost World War II and Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan rule over our country. A 2004 mockumentary, C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America, considers what might have happened if the South had won our Civil War. These sorts of alternate histories can be highly entertaining and also add perspective to real history through drama and satire.

I'd love to see a take on modern America, and specifically Michigan, if the automobile industry had been allowed to collapse eight years ago. I think it would be fascinating, especially if it used real economic models to extrapolate the consequences.

Of course, the reality was that the auto industry contracted hard, but first the Bush Administration and then the Obama Administration provided cover for survival. And credit where credit is due: It was Michigan autoworkers, from designers in Ann Arbor, to engineers in Detroit, to line workers in Flint (as well as suppliers and fabricators all over state) who contributed mightily to bring it back to its very healthy current state.

That good health is fairly obvious at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) presently going on in Detroit, and radically different from the NAIAS of 2009. Today we are talking about viable, mass-produced fully electric cars (the Chevy Bolt), a top-level pickup truck (Honda Ridgeline) not built by the big three, and -- my goodness -- the rebirth of the minivan (Chrysler Pacifica). We even have a major player (Volkswagen) openly confessing its sins and accepting the punishment.

That's progress!

In fact, one of the few similarities between now and then, is the chatter of government intervention. Back then, it was substantial and serious and critical to survival. Today it is randomly generated tweets. If you think about it, that too is progress, and I'm glad not to be in a Michigan of alternate history.

John Auchter is an editorial cartoonist. Views expressed in his cartoons are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.