AS if the credit crunch wasn’t enough, a snowstorm swept through Detroit to herald the start of the Motor Show.
But beleaguered executives from Detroit’s Big Three car makers did their best to ignore the world that was collapsing around them with the message that the future is bright – the future is green.
General Motors, Ford and Chrysler unveiled a raft of future products based on fuel efficient hybrids to full electric vehicles.
General Motors and Ford did their best to ignore the financial fall out going on around them, wheeling in hundreds of employees to whoop and holler through their press conferences.
GM chairman and chief executive Rick Wagoner said: ‘The future is fine. Today is a new beginning, we are restructuring, developing new models and expanding our fuel efficient vehicles. We will move forward with great products.’
While sales of big SUVs and pick-ups dropped through the floor during the summer as the oil price passed $140 a barrel, bizarrely there are signs that these models have started to sell again as the price has since dipped back to $40 a barrel and price at the pumps is back down to around $1.40 a gallon.
Ford even picked up the US Truck of the Year title with its big F150 Pick-up. Some things never change, it seems.
At least president and CEO Alan Mulally admitted that 2009 ‘will be a challenging year’.
He added: ‘We will leverage our global assets with great products and a strong business plan. In Europe we can point to the success of new small cars like the Fiesta and Ka.’
Chairman Bill Ford Junior claimed he had ‘never been more excited’ about the future which will bring four new electric or hybrid vehicles in the next four years.
Chrysler’s vice chairman Jim Press took a more light-hearted approach. ‘The government loans have come just in time,’ he said. ‘It’s like a college kid who has discovered in the fourth year that their parents have re-filled their bank account.’
At least the hundreds of employees wheeled in by GM and Ford made the show hall look busy at one of the quietest Detroit events in memory. There were a few more outside in the cold although they were protesting over job cuts.
The show hall was also quieter because of some notable absentees including Porsche, Ferrari, Land Rover and Rolls-Royce who decided to save money and stay away this year. Japanese companies Nissan, Infiniti, Mitsubishi and Suzuki also withdrew while Honda cancelled its press conference.
There was also an absence of show-biz style unveils and even the press suffered. Many manufacturers cancelled plans to run trips to the show and Chrysler’s traditional Firehouse party which fed and watered journos into the night was called off.