“This is amazing,” gushed Sergio Marchionne, CEO of Chrysler and Fiat when asked for his impression of the 2014 North American International Auto Show taking place at Cobo Center.
“What a long way we have come the past few years,” he added. “I’m proud of Ford, GM. Tomorrow we’ll do battle in the market place with all of them. But today, I’m just proud of everyone.”
Marchionne, took time to talk about the annual show while walking Cobo with Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel.
“What a great job Sergio and Chrysler have done,” Hackel said of the turnaround.
It was only a few years ago when Chrysler and General Motors went through government engineered bankruptcies. Today, they are stronger and more nimble.
And the Detroit Three were among manufacturers at the show showcasing over 60 new cars and trucks that have been capturing the attention of over 700,000 people expected to attend the NAIAS.
The comments were among those heard from movers and shakers at Cobo Center during taping of a special “Michigan Matters” program which airs this Sunday 11:30 a.m. on CBS 62.
Ford’s debut of its revamped F-150, 700-pounds lighter thanks to the aluminum it will now be made from, stunned many including Jeff Gilbert, WWJ Newsradio 950’s auto expert, and John McElroy, host of Autoline.
“The fact they were able to keep it under wraps from the press deserves some sort of award,” McElroy said.
Gilbert thought the F150 would gain traction with buyers.
Ford COO Mark Fields also talked about the revamped Mustang – which is celebrating its 50th anniversary and how the new F150 will help the auto maker lure more customers.
Gov. Rick Snyder discussed the importance of the annual event on the world’s stage as it helps showcase changes taking place in Detroit and also in the auto industry.
“We are already being reinvented,” Snyder said of Detroit.
Indeed, the city has been under the eye of Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr who was appointed by Snyder last year. The city filed for bankruptcy in July.
New Mayor Mike Duggan, who was born in Detroit and been to the auto show for years, was thrilled with the new improvements at Cobo Center – costing hundreds of millions of dollars.
The former Cobo Arena is now a sprawling atrium inside where Vice President Joe Biden made an appearance last week.
“There’s a lot of work ahead for us in Detroit,” said Duggan who is only a few weeks into his new job.
Though no Chinese manufacturers were on hand this time, leaders and auto executives from the Asian nation were there with talk about their goal of entering the American auto market.
Geely was the first Chinese company to debut a vehicle at the 2006 NAIAS show and others including Cherry did so too. But they have regrouped until their products are ready to meet tougher U.S. safety standards.
“The first wave was to introduce the culture,” said Rod Alberts, executive director of the Detroit Automotive Dealers Association which stages the NAIAS.
“The next time (they will be back) will be when a product is ready to be launched,” Alberts said.
Alberts spent time visiting with James Chai, director of CCPIT Automotive Sub-Council, which puts on auto shows in Beijing and Shanghai, and Zhao Weiping, China’s new Consul General of China to the Midwest, at the auto show.
The show marked the 25th anniversary of the “international” part of the NAIAS name.
“That little change has had a profound impact on this show and Detroit,” Alberts said.
Nigel Francis, who works for Michigan Economic Development Corporation and is the state’s brand new “car guy” who is charged with helping grow its auto business, also walked Cobo Center talking about two-way economic bridges with Zhao Weiping, who oversees Michigan and seven other states, on behalf of his government.
Thom Connors, general manager of Cobo Center, said the new renovation will help the city not only keep its luster as host of the top auto show in the nation, but will help lure other convention business too.
The NAIAS also heralded in the promotion of Mary Barra, who broke the glass ceiling as the first female CEO of General Motors.
Bob Lutz, the 80-something iconic designer who worked with Barra, said some of the world’s best leaders are women, “So why can’t a woman run an auto company?” Lutz added.
Cathy Nedd, COO of the Michigan Chronicle, also hailed Barra’s rise and talked of the importance of diversity to the auto industry.
The Chronicle celebrated the success of minorities in the industry at its annual “Driven” event and publication which was unveiled during events tied in with NAIAS.
Also appearing in the special: Alan Batey, GM North American President; John Mendel, Executive Vice President Sales, Honda/Acura; Steve Szakaly, NADA Chief Economist; Sen. Debbie Stabenow; Bill Fay, General Manager, Toyota, Mike Manley, President/CEO, Jeep brand; Al Gardner, President/CEO , Chrysler brand; and Fernando Palazuelo, new owner of the Packard Plant.
Watch “Michigan Matters” 11:30 a.m. Sunday on CBS 62.
Carol Cain is the Emmy winning senior producer/host of “Michigan Matters.” She writes a Sunday column on business and politics for Detroit Free Press. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.