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Detroit Today: Green Cars, Greenbacks and Green Shoots

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As editor of a leading auto research channel, and a HuffPost columnist, I do a lot of radio and TV interviews and travel frequently. In recent weeks, I have been asked a battery of questions about the U.S. auto industry and the City of Detroit.

I thought it would be a good idea to share with you what I am saying on the air and on the road about Detroit.

What do flat to lower auto sales for Ford and General Motors in April say about the state of the companies' comeback?

Not much. April was an odd month, with three fewer selling days and the Easter holiday. Based on what we see at AOL Autos on traffic trends and the automakers' forecasts, sales will be back up in May. Current forecasts for the year have been raised by another 500,000 units than predicted at the start of the year.

Is the Chevy Volt a failure?

No. What is a failure is the vindictiveness that one political party feels toward the idea of using tax credits to help establish new technology that will make U.S. drivers less dependent on foreign oil in the future. I realize that some people resent tax credits paying for certain kinds of cars, but we all have our objections to the way some tax revenue is spent. But just remember: The government, it can be argued, subsidizes the cost of gasoline by fighting wars in the Middle East to keep oil from that part of the world flowing to the West. The same people who object to tax credits for the Volt, though, don't seem to buy that idea.

Is Mitt Romney telling the truth when he says the Obama Administration essentially copied his plan for saving the auto industry?

Let me stop laughing first. Mitt Romney is claiming this because his infamous New York Times column in 2008 said the auto companies should go through a structured bankruptcy. This was not an original idea at all. While the Obama administration did usher GM and Chrysler through bankruptcy, it did so by supplying loans and investment capital that was not forthcoming from the usual parties that would normally supply it -- namely banks and private equity firms. The economy and financial markets were in free-fall. No banks or private equity firms were stepping up with the $80 billion required. If Romney can produce evidence to the contrary, he can be my guest to bring it forth.

The auto industry is in tact and healthy today because the Obama Administration took the highly unpopular move of bailing out GM, Chrysler and some auto parts companies, protecting more than 1 million jobs. Romney's assertion that the managed bankruptcy could have taken place without government capital is an election-year fiction. Poppycock. Nonsense. BS. Take your pick.

Is Detroit really coming back?

Slowly. I see green-shoots everywhere. More jobs locating downtown. Vibrant attendance at Lions, Tigers and Red Wings games. Restaurants I like that I can't get into because they are too packed. Fantastic arts performances at the Detroit Opera House, Fisher Theater and Fox Theater.

But what seems to hold the city back is the lack of realization on the part of certain constituencies, such as city worker unions and residents themselves, that the city is no longer an ATM machine for uncompetitive wages and benefits and has to be re-sized to deal with the current population. The footprint of the city suited the population that was here in the mid 1960s, but it is way too big for today.

Residents are resistant to the idea of moving around the city to concentrate neighborhoods. They seem to think that everything will work out in the end if they don't make what I would call "creative sacrifice." That means if people want Detroit to come back faster and thrive, they need to be willing to make sacrifices and potentially be inconvenienced as a means for getting the patient healthy again.

Which way will Michigan break in the November election?

Obama is leading in the polls. Romney, whose family has a big name in Michigan from when his father George Romney was governor and head of American Motors, is not willing to write off the state in which he was born. Because Obama saved the auto industry, the momentum is behind the president. But who knows how much negative advertising the Romney campaign and his supporting super PACs will purchase in October and November to try and move the polls? Romney is emotionally invested in Michigan.

Are Detroit cars and trucks really better? As good as the Japanese?

It's a tough question to answer. Quality is measured so many different ways. Consumer Reports. J.D. Power and Associates. Short-term quality versus long-term quality. What I can say is this: Hands down, no contest, I would buy a Detroit pickup truck or large SUV from Ford, GM or Chrysler before I'd buy an Asian truck or full-size SUV.

I know I recommend many more GM, Ford and Chrysler vehicles than I used to. Chevy Cruze, Cadillac CTS V, Buick LaCrosse, Ford Fusion, Ford Explorer, Jeep Grand Cherokee and Chrysler 300 are among my favorite picks in their categories.

Perhaps more important, the management at the Big Three is the best I have seen in 25 years, so I don't expect back-sliding. One more thing: Don't forget the Koreans. Hyundai and Kia are producing fantastic cars and SUVs.

Are you a native Michigander?

No, I chose to move here in 1998 from my home state of New Jersey.

Grand Blvd. is a weekly column about cars from David Kiley, editor-in-chief of AOL Autos. For more of his writing and everything about cars, head over to AOL Autos.