Auto Sector Is US 'Backbone'

Article excerpt

Leaders of the auto industry, labour unions and government officials held what they billed an unprecedented meeting to discuss ways of bolstering the embattled US economy after last week's airborne attacks in New York and Washington.

Calling the auto sector 'a backbone of our economy', US Labour Secretary Elaine Chao and Commerce Secretary Don Evans said they had called the meeting to talk about boosting consumer confidence.

'The terrorist attack on September 11 was a direct attack against America's economic might,' Ms Chao said. 'America will not bow before terrible enemies who have struck the heart of America's vitality by destroying the World Trade Centre.'

The meeting included the heads of Detroit's big three car makers, along with major parts suppliers and their largest unions. United Auto Workers President Stephen Yokich said he had never seen such a gathering before.

'This isn't just about the auto industry,' Mr Yokich said. 'It's about the tragedy we had in our country. Pulling together as management and labor, on behalf of all Americans. We're here to see what we can do.'

Mr Evans said President George W. Bush was working with Congress to explore ways of stimulating the economy in the aftermath of last week's attacks, in which hijacked airliners hit the Pentagon and destroyed New York's World Trade Center and left nearly 6,000 people missing or dead.

While car makers and car parts suppliers have not suffered the kind of widespread layoffs and losses that airlines have since the disaster, auto stocks have plunged in recent days over concerns that higher unemployment and weakening consumer confidence would cut sales of new cars and trucks.

New vehicle sales account for one-fifth of retail sales in the United States and one out of seven US jobs is in auto manufacturing or related industries.

One credit rating agency said on Tuesday that the attacks increased the likelihood it would downgrade the debt ratings of General Motors, Ford and DaimlerChrysler. …