Detroit auto show: strange air or optimism
The honour of kicking off the 2011 Detroit auto show went to Porsche this morning, with a red-eye press conference at 6.30am local time where the German supercar brand unveiled its hybrid race car, the 767bhp 918 RSR hybrid race car.
Surrounded by jetlagged journalists, the German executives – who seem to believe in a Gordon Gecko style ethos that sleep is for wimps – the unveiling was symbolic for a number of reasons, not least because it was the first time in four years that the brand has bothered to attend the Detroit show.
The car itself was launched with all the glitz and theatrics one comes to expect from a car show in the heydays and reflects a quietly spoken belief that while many markets remain in the doldrums, there are strong signs of recover in the US market at least.
Porsche’s chief executive Matthias Mueller said at the presentation that the brand increased 2010 sales by more than 25 per cent to about 95,000 vehicles worldwide, while orders jumped almost 50 per cent to more than 110,000 vehicles.
The latest Lazarus-like recovery of the US motor industry proves its incredible resilience. While both Chrysler and General Motors had to call upon Government bailouts to survive in 2009, there’s a real sense of recovery here. General Motors, rebaranded by some as Government Motors when the US authorities ended up taking a 61 per cent stake in the firm, has made the most remarkable recovery, with the government stake now reduced to 33 per cent and its debt levels expected to drop from $14.2 billion at the start of last year to $5 billion when it reports its final numbers for 2010.
Meanwhile Ford, the posterboy of the US motor industry, who didn’t need Government help to ride out the recession, is reportedly preparing to announce the creation of 7,200 new jobs, including 750 senior engineering positions.
Over at Chrysler, now under the effective control of the Fiat Group, plans to close one of its plants in Detroit have been shelved as its recovery plans take hold.
The cautious air of optimism is all the more surprising when you consider that for the last four years the mood at Detroit auto shows has resembled the waiting room of an intensive care unit.
And there’s a strange new word being used on the stands of US car brands: profit.