Detroit fights its past to forge a better tomorrow

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The downtown Detroit skyline, taken during the twilight hour.

The sun sets on a vestige of Detroit's automotive industry. (Photo Credit: CC BY/meagen/Fotopedia)

Detroit’s image has been taking a pounding for decades. Michael Moore’s 1989 documentary film “Roger and Me” was less than complimentary of then-GM chair Roger Smith, and the public image of the “Big 3” automakers (Ford, General Motors and Chrysler) certainly wasn’t helped by the automotive bailout. That image needs to be repaired if Detroit is to move into the future with confidence, said participants at the recent Mackinac Island meeting of the Detroit Regional Chamber’s annual policy conference.

‘I’m tired of being ashamed,’ said GM N. America Pres. Mark Reuss

Reuss told the Detroit Free Press that being ashamed of living in the manufacturing center that is Detroit is not conducive to a productive future. His sentiments echoed those of many of the 1,500 participants at the conference. While some are encouraged by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s aggressive stance on improving the state economy, it’s clear that the state will need a lot more polish.

“With all the national bashing of the region, we have to do an incredible sales job to get (new workers) to come,” said Ford Motors President Bill Ford. “We’re not a bunch of factories belching black smoke into the sky anymore.”

Working for a better home

GM has emerged from bankruptcy and returned to profitability, but the company hasn’t rested on its laurels. According to Reuss, community outreach and philanthropy have been top priorities.

“I want our home to be successful because it’s a reflection on us,” Reuss said. “There’s always more you can do. I think (Detroit Mayor Dave Bing) needs help. Not that’s he’s not totally capable, but there’s always more you can do.”

Auto bailout, unions sour consumers and executives

While some taxpaying consumers have been hesitant to buy GM because of the government’s role in controlling the company, other issues in Detroit have given corporate executives pause. The strong pro-union base upon which United Auto Workers (UAW) operates has traditionally scared executives, although as CEO Don Walker of auto supplier Magna International told the Free Press, UAW has worked hard to soften its image and help companies “become more competitive.”

Competing with the past

The post-WWII American love affair with the automobile that luminaries like novelist William Faulkner recognized has grown long in the tooth. The historical business practices of the Big 3 haven’t made it easy for the public to view Detroit with favor. Dating all the way back to 1948, it was their unfair monopolistic practices that drove visionaries like Preston Tucker to financial ruin. The rise of Japanese and German auto production has also played a significant role in diminishing the luster of the U.S. auto industry, suggests Euro-Pacific Capital brokerage firm President Peter Schiff. Add the lack of financial sense and responsibility that led to the automotive bailouts, and it’s easy to see that Detroit faces a tough opponent in its own history.

Detroit and US car culture history

Sources

Detroit Free Press

Detroit Regional Chamber


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