automotive | Michigan Radio


Daniel Howes / Detroit News

The last time Detroit got a new auto plant, Papa Bush was in the White House and Detroit’s real reckoning was years away. In the nearly 30 years since, Ford Motor mortgaged the Blue Oval to survive Detroit’s two other automakers collapsed into federally induced bankruptcy, and all three found profitability.

Anthony Brown

Take a look at higlights of the 2019 NAIAS in pictures and video.

Daniel Howes / Detroit News

Thirty years after the Detroit’s auto dealers rebranded its hometown auto show as “international,” the era is over.

No more tramping through the snow braving biting winds listening to complaints about coming to the Motor City in January. After this year, the North American International Auto Show will take place June and it’ll be reimagined around hands-on experience and advanced technology.

Daniel Howes / Detroit News

Happy New Year, folks. Detroit’s three automakers are heading for their most tumultuous year since two of them emerged from bankruptcy a decade ago.

Expect confrontation and radical change. The auto bosses charged with navigating their industry’s greatest transformation since Henry Ford’s moving assembly line are set for a clash with the industry’s paternalistic tradition, and its implied obligation to, quote, “the people.”

Howes: GM Drops Bomb

Dec 1, 2018
Daniel Howes / Detroit News

The president came to office promising to bring auto jobs home to Michigan and Ohio. And it looked like he’d be the Detroit industry’s best friend in decades.

It’s not exactly working out that way.

General Motors’ plan to end production at four U.S. plants next year … to imperil 3,300 hourly jobs … to cut 6,000 salaried employees elicited a fit of twitter rage from the commander in chief.

With apologies to King Canute who believed he, alone, could command the oceans, the president is learning he, alone, can’t command the auto industry.

On day one, Trump threatened to revoke electric-vehicle credits, even though he probably can’t. Then he threatened import tariffs on foreign-made cars, presumably including the Buick SUVs that GM makes in China and the sedans it mints in Canada.

On the third day, he used Twitter again to deflect blame for GM’s decision, saying his tariffs on foreign steel and aluminum aren’t the problem. “The USA is booming,” Trump wrote, quote, “Auto companies are pouring into the U.S.”

Except they aren’t. No, BMW isn’t building a second plant down South, as he reported. It’s thinking about it, in part as a hedge against presidential brow-beating. No, tariffs don’t help a Detroit auto industry greased by foreign parts and some production. They increase cost, decrease certainty and force CEOs to make hard calls. Or none at all.

That’s the thing about policy, Mr. President. It has consequences. And as much as Trump wants to shirk responsibility for at least some of the headwinds buffeting the industry, he can’t.

This isn't what candidate Trump envisioned when he barnstormed the industrial Midwest two years ago promising the return of auto jobs. Or when he vowed that tariffs on foreign steel, aluminum, even imported cars and trucks, would restore the Arsenal of Democracy to its former glory.

Ain't working out that way. The short-term pain of tariffs is plain for all to see. The long-term gain? Not so much.

GM has its own problems, legacies of its past. Too much excess plant capacity … and too many plants building traditional cars consumers don’t want. By its own admission, GM’s cash-flow generation is too meager … and its engineering staff is not optimized for the techy tasks ahead. None of that, it should be said, is Trump’s fault.

It’s GM’s. After American taxpayers fronted billions of their dollars a decade ago to keep The General afloat, it shouldn’t be at all surprising that critics are howling about GM’s responsibility to its people, its communities and the country. And as this restructuring unspools next year … and the fates of those four plants is decided in talks with the United Auto Workers … the howling will continue.

History can’t be erased that easily. A few years back, GM CEO Mary Barra asked me when people would start believing the new GM is for real. When it can prove its mettle to manage tough times and well as this long run of good times.

Daniel Howes / Detroit News

The stock market’s tanking, thanks to rising rates and an aimless trade war with China.

But two American automakers battling their own separate demons are making real money. And they’re getting decidedly different reactions on Wall Street -- which tells you a little something about Detroit you might not want to hear.

Daniel Howes / Detroit News

The Blue Oval is stuck in neutral. Again.

Just a few years after superstar CEO Alan Mulally retired and left town, Ford Motor is embarking on another 25 billion dollar restructuring. If you think this sounds like déjà vu all over again, that’s because it is.

What happened?

Ford’s second largest business – China – is in free-fall.

South America remains a money loser.

Its European business -- just a couple of years ago hailed for its turnaround -- is losing steam.

Daniel Howes / Detroit News

The automakers found their proverbial spines this week. After months of President Donald Trump’s haranguing about tariffs on finished vehicles and auto parts, the industry presented the country with a bill. Realizing the president’s protectionist dream would not come cheaply. The average cost of a vehicle would increase $5,800, says the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.

daniel howes
Daniel Howes / Detroit News

Three thousand delegates and members of the United Auto Workers will descend on Detroit next week for their Constitutional Convention.

They’ll hear happy talk about organizing gains, three years of fiscal discipline and fiery rhetoric, because that’s what these sessions are for. Fire up the membership in advance of next year’s bargaining with the Detroit automakers and others.

It’s what the folks leading today’s UAW won’t be talking about that matters. The union’s three joint-training centers funded by the Detroit Three remain under a federal corruption investigation.

General Motors says it is making the first mass-production autonomous car without a steering wheel or pedals.

The company says it has filed a petition with the federal government seeking permission to put the vehicles on the road sometime next year with no human backup drivers.