Detroit car show running on empty

It’s the biggest event in the world’s biggest auto market, but this year’s Detroit Auto Show comes at a terrible time for the industry. Expect gloom - not glitz - in Motor City, say our correspondents.


Monday, Jan. 12 - Fuel efficiency: the new buzz

When they're not talking about the car crisis here, they're talking about fuel efficiency. It's all about being green. The list is endless, from old hands like Toyota and Honda with their popular hybrids to those trying to muscle in on the market: GM, FORD, Chrysler.

GM's very excited about its hybrid Chevy Volt, out next year, Ford its Escape Plug-in for 2012, and Chrysler's all hyped about an electric future.

Seventy percent of Americans drive less than 40 miles a day. That's easily covered by the "battery-side" of a hybrid. If all these new cars are anything to go by, America's love affair with gas-guzzlers may be over one day.



Sunday, Jan. 11 - Subdued mood

The Detroit Auto Show is big, brash and gleaming, but the crisis in the car industry hangs over this convention centre like a stormy sky.

You don't need to look hard to find evidence of cutbacks. No Nissan, Suzuki, Ferrari, Porsche, Land Rover or Ferrari. No glitzy launches, celebrities or freebies. No one is throwing money around.

One Chrysler stand worker told me it really feels different to previous years. "I guess I'd better get used to it," she said, "This is just how it's gonna be for a while".


Friday, Jan. 9, 2009 – "A warm welcome"

There’s something about Detroit that gets under your skin.

It’s certainly nothing obvious, because this is a place which is neglected and literally broken. Drive around Detroit and you see crumbling houses and derelict factories - all skeletal reminders of the Motor City’s former glory. The city centre has never quite recovered from the flight to the suburbs, race riots in the 1940’s and 60’s and a car industry whose fortunes continue to fluctuate.


The interior of Detroit's former railway station. It's been closed for more than two decades and like many buildings in the city, it's been left to crumble.


So what is it about Detroit that is so alluring? Quite simply, it’s the people. Things are tough here, but you’ll struggle to find a warmer welcome.


Geno Bisoni says that, although Detroit is neglected, he wouldn't want to live anywhere else.
Geno Bisoni, a 36-year-old Detroit photographer, sums it up.  Standing in the carcass of the city’s former train station you would expect him to be downbeat but he’s not. For him this is home, he knows it is falling apart but he would never leave.



Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2009 - Across the river in Canada


The Ambassadors' Bridge connects the Canadian city of Windsor to the US city of Detroit.

The bridge connecting Motor City to Windsor in Canada, home to many auto workers.

But the links run far deeper. Thousands of people in Windsor rely on the Detroit Big Three for a job. You meet GM, Ford and Chrysler workers everywhere here. Yet, with the carmakers in crisis, everyone in Windsor is worried about the future.

The city already has Canada’s highest unemployment rate. One in ten people are jobless.



Rick Laporte, head of CAW Local 444, the union branch representing Chrysler workers, is fighting to keep car jobs in Windsor.



Joe Polozzo worked for Chrysler for more than 30 years. He was forced to retire early when his factory closed down. He told us that if he were a young man again, he would not go into the car industry because its future is too uncertain.



Monday, Jan. 5, 2009 - Everyone's connected to the auto biz


It was snowing when we left Paris, but it’s even colder in Motor City. Everyone here works in cars or knows someone who works in cars. The bus driver who takes us to the hire car office is a loud, funny 30-something called Joe Jones. His father was a car factory worker. His brother and sister are car factory workers. He’s a driver - but wants to be a news reporter. He whips out an old copy of a story he wrote for a local community paper: “Automakers: a crisis in Detroit that could affect us all”.


The crisis shaking Detroit’s Big Three - GM, Ford and Chrysler - does affect everyone here. Factories have already closed, jobs gone. In the hotel, we catch local TV stations announcing more grim news: US car sale figures are out for December. GM and Ford sales are down more than 30 percent, and Chrysler more than 50 percent. Detroit is set for a long, cold winter.


The spectre of unemployment looms: cars sit in lots unsold.

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