Jeff Plungis and Keith Naughton
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
General Motor Corp.’s reign as the world’s largest automaker made Detroit a proud city, said Ted Dobski, a retired GM executive from nearby Beverly Hills.
With its filing for bankruptcy yesterday, GM means something else to its hometown, he said.
“Bankruptcy is an incredible stigma,” said Dobski, 65. “I hate to see GM connected with that. GM is such an icon. GM is this area. It’s Detroit.”
Detroit residents are struggling to come to grips with what would have been unthinkable as recently as 2004, when GM was completing a 10-year run in which it earned $41 billion, milking profits out of jumbo sport-utility vehicles like the Chevrolet Suburban and Silverado pickup trucks.
From the GM gift shop at the airport, the Automotive Hall of Fame near Ford Motor Co.’s headquarters in Dearborn to Diego Rivera’s 1930s “Detroit Industry” murals at the art museum, autos and Detroit became synonymous, and making cars more than just a way of getting a paycheck.
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“Cars are in your blood around here,” said Mike Smith, director of Detroit-based Wayne State University’s Walter Reuther Library of Labor and Urban Affairs, named for the former United Auto Workers president who helped negotiate the pay and benefits that made autoworkers the envy of blue-collar employees across the country.
“It’s a sad blow to our egos,” Smith said.
‘They Don’t Care’