Detroit, Mich. – Fittingly, a snowstorm brought half a foot of snow and temperatures sank into the teens in Detroit on Saturday night, on the eve of the North American International Auto Show’s press preview days. The NAIAS is America’s premier auto show and has been anticipated this year by politicians, their media parrots, and some manufacturers as the industry’s opportunity to introduce the vehicles that will save us from global warming.
I hope they brought their long underwear.
Saturday’s blizzard will be followed by another snowstorm on Monday after which temperatures will plunge into the single digits for the remainder of the week. The deep freeze continues a run of harsh Midwest winters over the last decade — some people might even call it a cooling trend.
That the assembled 6,000 pressies from all over the world strain to ignore the irony outside the walls of Detroit’s Cobo Convention Center (I have yet to read an MSM report noting the paradox) is perfectly appropriate, given the general air of unreality that pervades this year’s program.
In the basement of the convention center, the state of Michigan has built a winding road through a lush, manufactured forest of trees, waterfalls, and mulch. The so-called “EcoXperience” has been constructed so that the journalists can test drive (at 10 mph) the latest “green” vehicles. Perhaps a protected spotted owl will nest in one of the trees and the state will never be allowed to take the faux forest down.
Sales of hybrid cars tanked in 2008 even after gasoline shot over $4 a gallon, ending the year with less than two percent of the American market. Yet automakers are flooding the market with new hybrids and as yet unproven — and even more expensive — plug-in hybrids. When automakers introduced SUVs into the teeth of $3-a-gallon gas prices two years ago, they were ridiculed by politicians. Now that they introduce hybrids into a declining market, they are cheered.
It’s what Washington wants.
While 50 percent of the American market is still small truck sales, nearly all 40 new product “reveals” at this year’s show will be sedans. When Ford’s best-selling model, the F-150 pickup truck, won the coveted Truck of the Year award to kick off the show Sunday, company executives fairly blushed with embarrassment.
At Ford’s opening news conference, the F-150 was briefly honored then quickly kicked to the shadows so that executives could roll out their new “green vision” of hybrid cars and planet-friendly engines. Introducing the company’s new “Ecoboost” line of engines, Chairman Bill Ford (a former Sierra Club member) explained that leaves will permeate the dashboard of its hybrid vehicles, “growing to indicate more fuel-efficient driving.”
Eco-cars have always headlined press preview week (the hall is open to the public next week), sharing the stage with other vehicle segments that actually make money. But this year is different. Green is all there is.
The NAIAS kicks off the new year’s major industrial trade shows and is a preview of industrial policy to come: A world in which automakers are bailed out by government, and in which they are, in turn, expected to produce products the government — and not the consumer — wants.