Driving the Difference: the Auto Show in Detroit

The past decade was excruciating for the American automotive industry.  At one point a few years ago, it seemed that at least two of the Big Three (General Motors and Chrysler) would not survive, a far cry from the dominance of Detroit on the global automotive scene a few decades ago.  Massive layoffs, mountains of toxic debt, a horrid line of products plagued by shoddy quality and a near total loss of confidence in the brands that for so long defined Detroit threatened to destroy the US automotive industry.

Today, the 2012 North American International Automotive Exhibition opens at the newly-renovated Cobo Hall in Detroit, an apt metaphor for the resurgence the industry has underwent in the past three years.  Detroit is back, and while it’s far too early for the industry to rest on its laurels, the changes are unmistakable.  First, the corporate and labor structures are far better suited to today’s economic realities than in years past.  Second, the product lineup is as different as can be, with innovations in quality and design that seemed unreachable a few years back the new industry norm for the Big Three.  And third, both the auto show and the companies themselves are doing better, with a new five year contract to keep the exhibition in Detroit and the Big Three recapturing vital market share.

Detroit’s obituary has been written many times before, and doubtless it will be so again in the future.  But for today, the news coming out of Detroit is a welcome breath of fresh air, which is good for us all.

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