03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

All Eyes on Detroit and Michigan

As the world turns its gaze to the North American International Auto Show, Detroit's auto industry is showing the path to a fuel-efficient future. The path is green, and it runs through Michigan.

The past year has been grueling. With the auto industry in free fall, we have the highest unemployment rate in the country. Inside the "Decade From Hell," as Time magazine dubbed it, we have just lived through the Year From Hell.

But today I went to the auto show. And what a difference a year makes. The auto show -- the workers, the engineers, the designers, the folks who sweep the floors -- were brimming with hope. The worst, we believe, is over. And the best is yet to come.

Here's what was evident: the future of the automobile and the American auto industry lies with electric vehicles. Electric cars were everywhere on display on the vast floors of Cobo Hall. And those electric cars will be powered by advanced batteries. And these advanced batteries and electric vehicles are going to be made in Michigan.

Last week, thanks to Recovery Act funds and the vision of General Motors designers, engineers and workers, the nation's first advanced lithium-ion battery for mass production vehicles rolled off an assembly line in Brownstown Township, just outside Detroit. These batteries will power the Chevy Volt, itself scheduled to start rolling off the assembly line late this year. And, by the way, the Volt will be Michigan-made, a $700 million investment by GM in eight of its Michigan facilities.

Then, today, Ford announced plans to invest an additional $450 million -- for a total of $1 billion -- in "vehicle electrification" in Michigan, including moving future battery pack assembly from Mexico to Michigan. Jobs moving from there to here -- that's a direction we like.

We all know that electric vehicles will reduce our dependence on foreign oil, but in the former-rust-belt states, it's all about jobs. Jobs that are transforming us from "rust to green." The advanced batteries that power electric vehicles will produce 40,000 jobs in Michigan alone by the year 2020, according to a Michigan State University economist.

Three years ago, Michigan identified the electric car battery as a growth sector. We enacted aggressive first-in-the-nation battery tax credits to lure those companies to Michigan. And America elected a president committed to the same goals. All of our work was rewarded this past August, when 12 Michigan battery projects won more than $1.35 billion in grants from the U.S. Department of Energy. Michigan won more battery grants than all of the other states combined.

As a result of these grants, battery plants are now beginning to sprout up across Michigan, from GM's Brownstown plant on the east side of the state to Johnson Controls' facility in Holland on the west side. And those plants are now hiring.

Federal assistance -- from grants to loans to the advanced energy tax credits announced last Friday -- has been crucial to supporting advanced battery and electric vehicle manufacturing and development. I am deeply grateful to President Obama, his administration, Congress and in particular the Michigan congressional delegation for all of their assistance in supporting a domestic battery industry and electric cars made in America.

Despite the job-loss hell of the past year, we are beginning to see signs of hope in Michigan. We're down but not out. We see a green future, and we're driving into a new green industrial revolution.

So hang on... it's going to be a great ride.

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