Thursday, November 20, 2008

Detroit Goes to Washington, Take Two

This is how they should have gone to DC. Why didn't I/we think of this.

Mr. Scott has a bright career in automotive PR should he ever want to leave The Detroit News. I don’t think this would have changed the outcome ulimately, but if would have changed the tenor and welcome from Congress.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Panic in Detroit: Not Just a Bowie Tune

There’s no way around it. At this point, I’m pretty worried about our future.

As a PR guy who’s been try to help engineer consensus on different companies in the automotive industry for 12 years, it’s been amazing to watch the trajectory of the car companies and suppliers during this time. The last three years have been water dropping on a rock, slowly eroding my confidence in this town’s ability to compete. Circumstances, as they say, allayed their forces against us. But lest we not forget decades of horrible judgment, both of which got us here today.

And then ├╝ber-industry watcher D. Howes drops this bomb in today's Detroit News.

That Detroit is going down is done; the question is what will it look like on the other side? Will Southeast Michigan look like one enormous sprawl of Canton/Akron, Ohio . . . a broad swath of decrepitude with homes priced as they were in the early 1970s with wages and salaries that match?

Even as GM and Ford continue to grow overseas—in many cases profitably—there’s only so many jobs in Detroit to be had going forward for essentially holding stewardship of the brands, sales/marketing and finances. GM has said that different regions will take ownership of developing global platforms, and North America/Detroit will retain fewer of those (B-cars will come from Korea; large rear drive cars from Australia, et al.). Design jobs, too, will be (are) widely dispersed as GM rightfully has said that designers in local markets should skin these platforms to tailor shapes to local tastes. Most people don't know that the auto industry until very recently was in great shape . . . just not in North America.

Detroit will be still smaller (remember, fifty years ago Detroit proper was 2 million people; today it’s less than half that size). Many of its best and brightest leave to escape the crime and “schools” the city has to offer (don’t believe a white guy from Lake Orion now living in Livonia, read this from my colleague Jacqueline Harrington on what it’s really like to live in Detroit . . . less than hopeful. Yes, she's African-American.)

We can keep working hard, and hope. On our hopes, here are a few of mine:

· The Joseph Goebbels-lookalike/rodent-faced/car industry-hating Henry Waxman goes three rounds of bare-knuckle boxing with local champion John Dingell. Waxman gets waxed by the senior Dingell on C-SPAN. It makes Sports Center. A sweet bronze statue goes up in Palace to honor the event.

· Detroit becomes the lithium-ion capital of the world.

· Gas prices stay under $2/gallon for five more years (I’m betting this won’t happen, get in now, buy me a beer in five years).

· The Japanese continue to mostly build excellent cars with forgettable or downright weird styling that turn people off; as cars become more commoditized and uniformly reliable, styling is what sells and Detroit gets its mojo back.

· The Germans continue to build overpriced cars that aren’t very reliable (I’ve had several; great to drive, terrible to own).

· Detroit comes back . . . property taxes drop . . . businesses move back in to the city . . . suburban people begin buying up the big mansions and turning many of the great downtown neighborhoods back into highly desirable places to live. There remains pockets of slums, but they grow smaller.

Feel free to add yours. If Obama showed us anything, it’s that sometimes big hopes can become bigger realities. While the lights are still on, keep hope alive.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Jim Cramer: GM Really Is Too Big to Fail

Here’s another reason why GM can’t fail as pointed out by the Mad Money’s Jim Cramer: the U.S. financial system “is riddled with GM [and] GMAC paper.” GM’s bankruptcy would lead to a meltdown in the trust of the U.S. financial system.

Not only are GM’s bonds everywhere, how many people own GM stock without even knowing it in or out of their retirement accounts?