5,000 auto journalists will be descending on Detroit this morning to get a first peek at concepts like the MINI Beachcomber at the North American International Auto Show. So… what road is the auto industry taking here?
All that talk two years ago about muscle cars and military-sized SUVs is subtly being replaced by talk of hybrids, electrics and “green” technology. That’s certainly a step forward, considering last year’s talk included words such as government rescues, plant closings and outright bankruptcy.
"This industry has paid its dues, and there is a changing of the guard," said Michael Bernacchi, professor of marketing at the University of Detroit Mercy.
The dues have been high for many. At least 15.3 million Americans were out of work at the end of December. That's nearly 50% more than the number of consumers who bought new vehicles last year. And that has sounded the death horn for some marques.
So who won’t be there? Pontiac and Saturn are gone. Mitsubishi and Suzuki are dangling by a brake cable. Nissan will not participate in this show for the second consecutive year – save for the introduction of their new Leaf vehicle.
And management? That’s completely new. General Motors and Chrysler have new CEOs, boards of directors and management teams (some would say including you and I, as taxpayers). Toyota and Honda also named new leaders in 2009. Volvo and Hummer are being sold to Chinese automakers. Jaguar and Land Rover are owned by India's Tata Group.
The current state of affairs, overall, is decidedly upbeat. There appears to be some light on the economic horizon and a growing acceptance of mpg over mph. Take Toyota, which will introduce a small hybrid priced at under $20k that gets more than 50 mpg. Jaguar Land Rover fully expects to return to “pre-crisis” sales levels after 2009 sales fell by about 30%. And then there is the Obama administration, which recently announced grants total $56.6 million for Michigan – Detroit – automakers and suppliers to demonstrate new fuel efficient technologies.
And there is still one element of the automobile that neither sales figures or ownership papers has destroyed. “That's eye-grabbing design”, said Peter DeLorenzo, founder of the Autoextremist.com blog and a critic of the industry's conventional wisdom.
"Good design will still win out, and it will transfer across any generation," DeLorenzo said.
MINI is doing just fine on that score, thank you.
We'll see what all those reporters have to say...
The MINI Speedster, Roadster, Crossover and now the new Beachcomber prove that MINI is not resting on its celebrity and is roaring full speed ahead into the world of brand-extending design without losing its "MINI-ness."
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