March 26 2009 12:00 AM

William HOLSTEIN is the author of "Why GM Matters: Inside the Race to Transform an American Icon." He spoke last week at Michigan State University.

What compelled you to write your book?

Ive been a longtime believer that manufacturing matters to the economy in this globalized environment. The automotive industry is at the center of manufacturing. I tried to figure out what I could come up with that crystallized those feelings about American industrial power.

Is the crux of the debate really that GM doesnt matter, or is it about propping up a company that may fail anyway?

‘Throwing good money after bad.’ Thats a phrase you hear on Fox News, even CNBC. GM and Chrysler represent 1 percent of the gross national product, if you include suppliers. Theyre like the central nervous system of the human body with all these tentacles reaching into the economy – design, engineering and technology. They buy $3 million dollars worth of technology every year. And the dealers are a huge economic force in communities. It depends on the type of economy and society we want to have in America. What kind of future do we want to have? Do we want our kids to be working for foreign companies (located in the U.S.)?.

Would you make the same argument in defense of Ford if they were asking for federal funds?

Yes. The reception here is different here than in Washington or New York. There, I come under real attack from both ends of the political spectrum. On the right theres Fox, the Wall Street Journal — Fox is anti-union, so theyre anti-Detroit. Theyre being ideologically attacked. Then theres National Public Radio. Theyre against GM because of what they see as their environmental transgressions and because GM has recently been tough on the unions. So, across the spectrum, the media and Americans are skeptical.

It was widely reported March 5 that there are now some serious concerns about GMs viability. Is this too risky an investment to make?

The filing (March 5) is nothing new. But theres a lot of good product coming. The Chevy Volt. OnStar is a shining example of innovation. What they need to do is start working on Americans perception — Americans think buying an American car is dumb. Theres a clear bias against American cars.

What does GM have to do to be competitive? Are more union concessions coming?

They still need to work with the unions and how theyre going to pay for long-term health care for many employees. The work practices still need to progress. And there may be more plant closings coming.

When is it too late to save GM?

Theres no point at which it is too late. We have to fight to the last dying breath, and make an effort to change public opinion.

So who "gets it" — the heart of the debate and the importance of it?

I hope its Obama. Hes spent so much time in Illinois — he gets manufacturing. He also owes the United Autoworkers Union a debt of gratitude — they helped get him elected.