If you’re an impartial observer and have been to any of the Detroit auto museums, you’ve probably noticed something disturbing. Despite the Motor City’s standing in automotive history, there simply aren’t enough quality auto museums there anymore. Has the heart of America’s automotive industry abandoned the ship of its history, or is it straight economics?
Detroit fails to leverage museum resources
A recent article in the Detroit Free Press points out that many major urban centers of the world, like London, are loaded with auto museums that sport impressively vast displays of supercars young and old. By comparison, Detroit and the surrounding area has some of the following, notes the Free Press:
- The Walter P. Chrysler Museum – After a mere 13 years of existence, the Auburn Hills, Mich., auto museum officially shuttered its doors as of Jan. 1, 2013. Nothing like a little name recognition to boost patron attendance. Oh, wait…
- The Motorsports Hall of Fame – Something that sounds so grand and officious would no doubt have a permanent home. Yet this auto museum that began at the Novi Expo Center on Grand River Avenue in Novi, Mich., has bounced to the Detroit Science Center, a Brighton storage warehouse and soon, an entirely different southern state, perhaps where NASCAR fans run more rampant
- The GM Heritage Center – Such a rich swath of U.S. automotive history would certainly deserve some prime real estate in the Detroit area, would it not? Despite an outstanding collection of historic GM vehicles, the museum is relatively hidden out in Sterling Heights, a Detroit suburb
What’s happening to US automotive history?
Why isn’t Detroit the world-class automotive tourism destination that is should be? According to the Detroit Free Press, native Detroiters like Henry Ford Museum CEO Patricia Mooradian are wondering the exact same thing. Yet Mooradian recognizes that some things are being done to correct the problem.
“I love the idea of the driving courses,” said Mooradian, in reference to the Ford museum’s “Driving America” exhibit.
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Interactive and loaded with videos, driving courses and other means through which guests can experience iconic vehicles from throughout history, Driving America is example of innovating for the future of Detroit auto museums. But even Mooradian admits that the Henry Ford Museum was previously a static, non-interactive place, and that it and other Detroit auto museums could be even better if they added driving courses like London’s Mercedes-Benz tracks, or even the BMW Performance Driving School in South Carolina. Both offer patrons the exciting chance to drive laps in a sleek, powerful vehicle – something Detroit auto museums simply don’t offer.
Connecting the dots for a better future
Toby Barlow, chief creative officer of the Team Detroit ad agency, believes that Detroit auto museums need to work together to “connect the dots” and bring together the scattered potential of the area’s historic wellsprings.
“We’ve already got the RiverFront Conservancy making great progress along the river,” said Barlow. “Next is Gilbertville downtown; then Ilitchville by the Fox Theatre and stadiums; then Moseyville, then New Center with the College for Creative Studies’ Taubman Center and TechTown. The only tent pole not lifted up yet, going up Woodward is Highland Park, and it’s a very doable thing.”
Connecting these tent poles for a stronger Detroit auto museum scene will take a great deal of capital, as well as cooperation with developers and Detroit city officials. Executive Director Rob Alberts of the Detroit Auto Dealers Association believes that with the current momentum the U.S. auto industry is experiencing with renewed sales numbers, Detroit auto museums would be wise to capitalize within the next few years, before things blow over. It’s something Barlow agrees can happen – unless Detroit continues to choke on its recent history of financial mismanagement.
“The city is choking on cars that are under wraps at various locations,” Barlow exclaimed.
Detroit’s great history should be kept under wraps no longer; glory must be reclaimed.
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