Auto Industry Crisis Casts Shadow On Detroit Show The Detroit auto show is a chance to show off an industry whose business is evaporating. In the industry's annual showcase of new products, General Motors, Ford and Chrysler focused on humility, sustainability and more fuel-efficient cars.
NPR logo

Auto Industry Crisis Casts Shadow On Detroit Show

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/99235435/99235420" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Auto Industry Crisis Casts Shadow On Detroit Show

Auto Industry Crisis Casts Shadow On Detroit Show

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/99235435/99235420" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

In its annual showcase of new products, GM, Ford, and Chrysler focused on humility and sustainability. They emphasized more fuel-efficient cars, and they avoided big publicity stunts. NPR's Frank Langfitt reports on the contrast with just a year ago.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAST YEAR'S DETROIT AUTO SHOW)

D: In just a few seconds, they're going to show the all-new Dodge Ram pickup. We're expecting a cattle drive down the street, and it should be really exciting. Chrysler never disappoints.

FRANK LANGFITT: That's how Chrysler kicked off last year's auto show. 130 head of longhorn steer accompanied the truck through the streets of Detroit. This year, everything was different. Instead of a waterfall which spelled out Jeep, there was a curtain of electric cords signifying the company's electric car offerings. Jim Press, Chrysler's co-president, acknowledged the contrast.

JIM PRESS: Probably like me, you're looking to see if the cows are behind me.

LANGFITT: The company's financial crisis hung over the event like a cloud. Chrysler had to borrow $4 billion from the government last month just to keep operating. Press tried to joke about it while introducing company executives, including the chief financial officer.

PRESS: The government checks go right to Ron Kolka.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

PRESS: So if anybody needs a loan, see Ron Kolka.

(SOUNDBITE OF CLAPPING)

LANGFITT: Frank Klegon, who oversees product development, introduced three new electric vehicles.

FRANK KLEGON: So let's see it now, the Dodge Circuit EV.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LANGFITT: After the unveiling, CEO Robert Nardelli took questions not about the vehicles, but Chrysler's future.

ROBERT NARDELLI: You know, a lot of people, some naysayers maybe would like to see Chrysler go away. But we're here to tell you that we're going to prove them wrong.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

LANGFITT: The scene over at General Motors was more upbeat. Company employees gathered to greet the new models. They waved blue and green signs that read 40 miles a gallon and here to stay. Soon, the new GM cars came rolling down the carpet. GM executive Bob Lutz introduced the star of the show.

BOB LUTZ: Ladies and gentlemen, the Cadillac Converj concept.

LANGFITT: Frank Warren is 49 and works at a GM transmission plant. He says the auto workers have already given up enough.

FRANK WARREN: We've given up positions that it's taken 30 years to get. We've got workers coming into our doors now making $14 an hour without healthcare. Can you support your family on $14 an hour and pay a mortgage? I don't think so.

LANGFITT: Frank Langfitt, NPR News, Detroit.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.