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Published: Monday, 8/23/2010

Vice President Joe Biden applauds auto industry comeback during Toledo speech


Vice President Joe Biden and a panoply of Ohio Democratic politicians celebrated the comeback of the American auto industry in a tour and speech at Toledo's Jeep Wrangler assembly line Monday.

The vice president said the recession that started in 2008 could have destroyed 100s of thousands of jobs in the automobile industry if the government hadn't extended emergency loans to keep the companies afloat.

He said 431,300 auto industry jobs were lost in 2008, but that since GM and Chrysler emerged from bankruptcy last year, employment has rebounded by 76,300 jobs.

“It's a huge reversal and one we'd never have seen had we listened to those who told us to walk away,” Mr. Biden said.

Mr. Biden noted a rise in auto employment and a return to U.S. shores of parts manufacturing that he said would not have been possible without the emergency bailouts made by American taxpayers starting in December, 2008.

“The American auto industry is rebuilding itself and I believe it will dominate the 21st century like it did the 20th,” Mr. Biden said to a crowd of several hundred — mostly union autoworkers — inside the factory.

The vice president played up his car connections, saying he once applied for, but didn't get, a job at a GM factory and that his father was a car dealer. He got one of his biggest cheers when he told the crowd that he's had a Jeep in his driveway continuously since 1973.

According to Mr. Biden, the country is seeing a trend toward “in-sourcing” — the return of parts manufacturing from overseas.

He said last year fewer than 60 percent of the Wrangler's parts were made domestically. Now, that number is 78 percent, he said.

Mr. Biden said all three American car companies posted operating profits for the second quarter, the first time that's happened since 2004.

General Motors recently announced it would sell stock in the company, of which the U.S. government owns about 60 percent. Mr. Biden said he didn't know if that would pay back the American taxpayer for their loan.

“I don't know that we get totally out of GM, but I think that [initial stock offering] is going to be successful,” he said.

Mr. Biden got in some partisan shots at the previous administration, saying the main thing that he and Mr. Obama wanted to do was “clear away the brush left by eight years of neglect ... by the last administration.”

The vice-president's trip continued on to a fund-raising event for Gov. Ted Strickland at Belmont Country Club in Perrysburg Township. About 75 people attended the event where ticket prices were $1,000 to $2,400 per person.

Mr. Strickland is facing a challenge from Republican former Ohio congressman John Kasich.

The Biden speech took place in what Chrysler calls its supplier park, a complex of three privately owned supplier plants on North Expressway Drive which feed parts to the Wrangler assembly plant, said to be one of only two such arrangements in the world.

Workers Kevin Durczynski, 43, of Oregon, and Amy Vollmar, 44, of Tontogany, Ohio, showed the vice president how they attached windshields to Wranglers.

“Very easy-going, made me feel comfortable right away,” Mr. Durczynski said of Mr. Biden.

He said he told the vice president, “we appreciate him and President Obama for passing TARP and allowing us to prove to the world that we make a world-class vehicle at the Toledo Jeep complex.”

The Troubled Assets Relief Program, passed in October, 2008, was used for the government's extension of some $81 billion in loans to GM and Chrysler to keep the two companies from an abrupt shutdown that was feared would have taken much of the supplier chain with them.

One of the dignitaries present was Sergio Marchionne, chief executive officer of Chrysler Group LLC, which emerged from bankruptcy in June, 2009, under the management of Fiat SpA of Italy.

Mr. Marchionne said Chrysler Group would repay the loan from the taxpayers before 2014.

Asked how much money that would be, he said, “Whatever they lent us. We have all the cash they lent us. It's still with us.”

Politicians who spoke were Mr. Strickland, Ohio U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, and U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur of the 9th Congressional District, which includes Toledo. Also present was Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher, who did not speak.

Miss Kaptur, who is facing a challenge from Republican Rich Iott of Monclova Township, thanked Mr. Biden and President Obama for their “courage” in extending funds to GM and Chrysler.

“There were some who said we should walk away from plants like this one,” Miss Kaptur said. She recalled that the House voted 237-170 in December, 2008, to provide bridge loans, with overwhelming Democratic support and Republican opposition.

“Who would vote no on billions of dollars of investment in Ohio and Michigan, the heart of the United States auto industry? We thank those who had the courage to do that,” Miss Kaptur said.

Miss Kaptur said the auto market is “rigged” against American manufacturers in other countries which sell their cars here unhindered, but bar American cars sales at home.

“We ask our workers and our manufacturers to compete against closed markets,” Miss Kaptur said. She said Korea sells 700,000 cars in this country, but that only 7,000 American cars are sold in Korea.

Mr. Iott has said he was opposed to the federal bail-out of GM and Chrysler, saying last week that it was wrong for the government to pick winners and losers in the economy.

Yesterday, Mr. Iott issued a statement highlighting the success of the Ford Motor Co. which occurred without the help of taxpayers.

“Without government aid, [Ford] made painful cuts and is today thriving without the burden of billions in federal bailout loans and without Washington bureaucrats breathing down its neck,” Mr. Iott said.

U.S. Rep. Bob Latta (R., Bowling Green) said in a telephone news conference that the economy is not as rosy as the administration portrays and the reason is that the president's policies on debt, taxes, health care, environmental legislation, and regulation are creating uncertainty.

“With the vice president coming today, and again you have to ask yourself where are the jobs at,” Mr. Latta said, going on to say that Ohio has lost 130,000 jobs since the stimulus was passed in early 2009.

Mr. Latta voted against the TARP legislation for the auto manufacturers. He said yesterday the government moved too quickly and should have given the market more time to correct itself.

“What people want to see is government really getting off their back and letting them go out there and create jobs,” Mr. Latta said.

Contact Tom Troy at:tomtroy@theblade.comor 419-724-6058.

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