The Road Ahead

The Road Ahead
Detroit Institute of Arts Director Graham Beal pictured with a British-made 1953 Riley, similar to his first car, also a ’53 Riley. Car courtesy of Robert Grinsell. Location courtesy of Steve Rose. Photograph by Roy Ritchie

There’s no question that it’s difficult to strike a positive note these days. But there really are some headlights visible in the distance.

Ironically, no automaker has done a better job of raising productivity to world-class levels than the most troubled of the hometown Big Three, Chrysler, which now rivals the vaunted Toyota. Ford’s quality, meanwhile, is challenging the best of the imports.  And one has only to look at the Chevy Volt — which makes its debut, in production form, at this month’s North American International Auto Show — to see that General Motors is poised to regain the lead it long held as the industry’s design and technology benchmark.

What we call the Big Three no longer dominate the American auto market, never mind the global industry. Even giant GM has been dethroned by Toyota as the worldwide king of the hill. In human terms, the Big Three have endured the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs in recent decades.

Yet, as it’s often been said, you can’t cost-cut your way to prosperity. In the mid to long term, it will take even more breakthrough products and even better productivity and quality to make even the biggest domestic skeptics take note. All of that will require a new focus.

Going into this dark recession, Detroit was beginning to show that a turnaround, while difficult, can jump-start the necessary momentum. As the following pages show, cars still fuel the imagination.