Consumers are responding to the Chevy Cruze, which just celebrated its first year of production. Reports have described it as attractive and comfortable, fuel-efficient and stocked with safety features - which makes this father of a Cruze-driving daughter very relieved.
But beyond that, I think the most appealing feature of the Cruze is what this made-in-Ohio car represents about the resurgence of the domestic auto industry and manufacturing jobs in our state.
There was a lot to celebrate in Lordstown last week, where one year ago the first Cruze rolled off the lines. I was proud to have been on hand for that historic event, and even took a ride in a red Cruze - a car made, stamped and assembled by workers from across the state.
Just a few short years ago, in the midst of a souring economy, companies like General Motors and Chrysler were on the verge of disintegration. Between spiking gasoline prices and overall uneasiness about the state of the economy, the demand for new vehicles dropped precipitously.
Without federal intervention, the industry was virtually certain to collapse. Such a breakdown would have put the livelihood of hundreds of thousands of Ohio workers in jeopardy.
Though it was politically unpopular at the time, we made the tough decision to save the auto industry from disintegration, helping maintain millions of good-paying jobs. In Ohio alone, nearly 800,000 jobs are associated with the auto industry, with more than 120,000 Ohioans directly employed by automakers and supply-chain parts manufacturers. The Center for Automotive Research found that more than 160,000 auto jobs would have been lost in Ohio in 2009 if the auto industry had not been restructured.
And these aren't just jobs at the Big Three. Ohio is home to more parts suppliers, materials industries and technology companies that support America's auto manufacturing base than almost any other state.
The Cruze epitomizes how central the auto industry is to Ohio. Not only is the car assembled right here in the Valley, but also features components made at plants all across Ohio: engine blocks manufactured in Defiance, transmissions assembled in Toledo and parts stamped in Parma. Aluminum wheels for the high-mileage Chevy Cruze Eco come from Cleveland.
As the success of the Cruze demonstrates, the American auto industry is back - in a big way - making stylish, affordable and fuel-efficient cars that consumers want to buy. This is a triumphant time for the automakers and suppliers in our state, but it could have been a far different picture if auto industry detractors had gotten their way.
Instead of adding more than a thousand new jobs and new overtime and weekend shifts in Lordstown, GM might have been hanging padlocks on the gates of the complex. Instead of receiving awards and accolades, the company could be passing out pink slips.
And it's not just the Valley that's reaped the benefits: in Northwest Ohio, both Chrysler and GM plan to invest millions of dollars in auto plants near Toledo, adding and preserving thousands of solid, middle-class jobs. These are investments that benefit not just the biggest automakers, but hundreds of supply-chain manufacturers in Ohio as well.
But as we continue to work our way toward economic recovery, one thing is clear: we're not going back to business as usual. High-tech, fuel-efficient cars and clean energy are the future, and the American auto industry is adapting.
That's why I was encouraged by an agreement laid out recently by the Obama Administration and American automakers to implement new, stronger fuel economy (CAFE) standards for domestic cars. By 2025, automakers' fleet of vehicles must average 54.5 miles per gallon. This will make American cars more competitive on a global market, and lower fuel costs for Ohio households.
When we decided to save the U.S. auto industry from collapse, Ohio's steelworkers, plastic producers and stamping plant workers were able to keep their jobs. Ohio auto parts suppliers were able to hire more people and build capacity.
We owe it to our children and we owe it to Ohio workers to create a climate that fosters innovation and creates jobs - and auto manufacturing plays a tremendous role in that. Thanks to the auto rescue, the American car industry is on the road to an even greater future.
Brown, a Democrat, is one of Ohio's U.S. senators.