5,000 auto journalists will be descending on Detroit this morning for the kick-off of the North American International Auto Show, commonly known as the Detroit Auto Show. So… what is the state of the industry?
All that talk two years ago about muscle cars and military-sized SUVs is subtly being replaced by talk of hybrids, electrics and “green” technology. That’s certainly a step forward, considering last year’s talk included words such as government rescues, plant closings and outright bankruptcy.
"This industry has paid its dues, and there is a changing of the guard," said Michael Bernacchi, professor of marketing at the University of Detroit Mercy.
The dues have been high for many. At least 15.3 million Americans were out of work at the end of December. That's nearly 50% more than the number of consumers who bought new vehicles last year. And that has sounded the death horn for some marques.
So who won’t be there? Pontiac and Saturn are gone. Mitsubishi and Suzuki are dangling by a brake cable. Nissan will not participate in this show for the second consecutive year – save for the introduction of their new Leaf vehicle.
And management? That’s completely new. General Motors and Chrysler have new CEOs, boards of directors and management teams (some would say including you and I, as taxpayers). Toyota and Honda also named new leaders in 2009. Volvo and Hummer are being sold to Chinese automakers. Jaguar and Land Rover are owned, as you know, by India's Tata Group.
The current state of affairs, overall, is decidedly upbeat. There appears to be some light on the economic horizon and a growing acceptance of mpg over mph. Take Toyota, which will introduce a small hybrid priced at under $20k that gets more than 50mpg. Jaguar Land Rover fully expects to return to “pre-crisis” sales levels after 2009 sales fell by about 30%. And then there is the Obama administration, which recently announced grants total $56.6 million for Michigan – Detroit – automakers and suppliers to demonstrate new fuel efficient technologies.
"Good design will still win out, and it will transfer across any generation," DeLorenzo said.
That said, the design team at JLR – particularly with the new LRX (shown above) - is certain to turn some heads, and possibly help spur a turn-around for the entire industry.
And there is still one element of the automobile that neither sales figures or ownership papers has destroyed. “That's eye-grabbing design”, said Peter DeLorenzo, founder of the Autoextremist.com blog and a big critic of the industry's conventional wisdom
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