By Patrick Olsen
As a souring economy and soaring gas prices change the face of the U.S. car market, automakers find themselves at a crossroads. American consumers are turning away from large SUVs and pickup trucks, and car companies need to build smaller, more fuel-efficient cars — but still make a profit doing so. While the Big Three have found it difficult to adapt to this shift in buying attitudes, foreign automakers have been able to move more adroitly, but even some of them have been caught in the swirl of the storm.
Four Indiana cities highlight how high gas prices and environmental and economic concerns have forced the auto industry to change its ways or get left behind:
- In Greensburg, Honda will take advantage of increased demand for fuel-efficient cars by building more of the gas-sipping Civic beginning this fall. In May, the Civic grabbed the title (at least for a month) of the nation's best-selling model as gas prices passed $4 a gallon.
- In Mishawaka, Hummer workers at one of the last two Big Three plants left in the state are waiting to learn their fate. GM says it would like to sell or — barring that — dump the Hummer nameplate, which many critics call a symbol of American gas-guzzling excess.
- As the green movement picks up speed, Subaru is making vehicles at a “zero-landfill” plant in Lafayette, meaning all its waste is recycled or reused.
- In Princeton, workers face an impending three-month slowdown as Toyota quits building pickups there and temporarily silences the Sequoia line. Toyota is celebrating 10 years in Indiana, but it's also feeling some of the same pains as the Big Three.
Over the next five days, we’ll offer an in-depth look at automotive manufacturing in the Crossroads of America, which serves as a microcosm of what's happening in this global industry.