Lang and his wife had saved some money and decided to stay in Michigan, foregoing GM pay and benefits until he was called back to work at his home plant. By summer of 2011, he was back on the job testing the assembly line.
"Pack your lunchbox and head off to work. That's a great feeling," he said.
Gradually, all the older workers who wanted to return to the plant were hired back at the same pay as when they left. New workers were added at the lower wage, adding up to 1,800 on two shifts.
The first Sonic, a white hatchback, rolled out of the Orion factory in August 2011.
Even when their company was in bankruptcy, GM engineers and designers across the world never stopped working on the Sonic, a new mini car that would take on the Honda Fit and Toyota Yaris. The Sonic was part of a wave of small cars from Detroit that came with more than just good gas mileage and a lower price: They had aggressive styling, better handling and more amenities like leather seats and navigation systems.
At GM's expansive technical center, 30 miles south of Orion, engineers worked to make the Sonic accelerate faster and ride quieter than the Aveo, its cheap South Korea-built predecessor. The Sonic emerged with hatchback and four-door versions. It came in eight colors, including bright orange, and it got up to 40 mpg on the highway.
The car hit showrooms with a sticker price of just under $14,000 — $1,300 less than the Fit. A year later, the tiny Chevy was the best-selling subcompact in the country. Last year, GM sold more than 81,000 Sonics. Hyundai's Accent finished second at 61,000.
GM is confident the Sonic will soon turn a profit, largely because workers at Orion keep finding ways to cut costs. Earlier this year, a team in the body shop suggested a small fix in the plant's machinery. It ensures that the car's frame fits together correctly every time and reduces the amount of steel going to the scrap heap, saving money.
"We recognize that we've got to work together as partners, because we're going to succeed or fail together," Orion Plant Manager Steve Brock said.
Even the wage differences don't seem to be a big source of friction. Tammy Ballard, who makes the lower wage that is now $16.66 per hour, said workers don't ask each other about pay. She left an auto-parts company for greater job security at GM.
"I knew what I was coming into, and I'm satisfied with that," she said.
On her purple T-shirt is Orion's slogan: "We build it like we own it."
Two months after the plant reopened, Obama and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak visited to celebrate a new free trade agreement. It was a little over 27 years since President Ronald Reagan had spoken at the plant's dedication. Obama trumpeted his familiar campaign theme about saving thousands of jobs.
It was an emotional moment for Dunn, who shook the president's hand.
"I was taught in my household that you take care of the people that take care of you," he said. "That man took care of me."
By the time Obama visited, GM had reported its sixth straight quarterly profit and repaid some of its government loans in cash and with a public stock offering. The government still owns 19 percent of the company and is still roughly $22 billion in the hole on its $49.5 billion bailout of GM.
To the smaller companies near the Orion plant, GM's survival was huge relief.
Applied Manufacturing Technologies, which programs Orion's robots, made it through the downturn by diversifying into the food processing, glass and solar energy businesses. GM is still its largest customer.
"The turnaround is shocking, how fast and strong it is," said Applied Manufacturing founder Mike Jacobs.
CAN IT LAST?
Detroit has seen many booms and busts in a century of auto making. There were 41 car companies in the city in 1913. Almost all failed or were consolidated into the Big Three. Chrysler nearly went bankrupt in 1980 before being rescued by the government. Sales ebb and flow with the economy, gas prices and even the weather.