Optimism Reigns at the Detroit Auto Show
Open letter from Russ Darrow, AIADA Chairman
Shortly before becoming Chairman of AIADA last year, I attended the 2009 North American International Auto Show in Detroit with AIADA President Cody Lusk and then-Chairman Jim Hudson. The experience was demoralizing. The crowd at the Cobo Center was a fraction of what it had been in past years. Conversations on the show floor were hushed and grim. We were an industry waiting for the other shoe to drop.
What a difference a year makes.
In the past 12 months our industry saw dramatic change. Two manufacturers declared bankruptcy and more than a few brands disappeared. The recession dug in and buyers stopped buying. Some dealers lost everything. Our government became one of the industry’s largest stakeholders and launched a massive “Cash for Clunkers” program to kick start sales. Things were never going to be the same.
Our understanding of what makes a car company work, and what buyers want, has permanently shifted. But today, some aspects of the car business are returning to what we consider normal. One of them is the Detroit Auto Show.
This year’s show could not have been more different from last year. Top executives from all over the world were in attendance. The floor was packed, the volume was deafening, and some of the cars on display were cool enough to give you goose bumps. The people who build and sell cars are re-energized.
In my conversations with industry executives I heard a few common themes. They were excited about their lineups, dedicated to improving communication with their dealer bodies, and positive that 2010 was going to be the year we climbed out of this mess.
I believe them.
Last year was a wake-up call. Manufacturers saw what failure looked like, and didn’t like it. Both domestic and international brands are entering 2010 full steam ahead, with sharper designs and higher quality. I was particularly impressed by Audi’s and Hyundai’s sleek designs, Kia’s energetic press conference, The new Mazda 2, Honda’s groundbreaking CR-Z, and Toyota’s “green” line-up. Even more than that, I was pleased to see a few top executives inspecting their competitor’s displays. In 2010 nothing is being taken for granted.
After the year we’ve had, every dealer deserves a taste of the optimism I found in Detroit. My suggestion? Do yourself a favor and come to NADA’s annual convention, held this February in Orlando. See firsthand where our industry is headed, and who is leading the charge. You can register for AIADA’s 40th annual meeting and luncheon, featuring Hyundai’s John Krafcik as the keynote speaker, by clicking here.
I look forward to seeing you there!