By Carol Cain
Senior Producer and Host
WWJ-TV CBS Detroit’s “Michigan Matters”

There are lessons to be learned from painful times the Detroit Three automakers were forced to go through to survive. These lessons could set the pace for the Motor City as it prepares to recalibrate and downsize.

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That was one theme of a far-flung conversation with Detroit Mayor Dave Bing and Bill Perkins, chairman of the 2012 North American International Show (NAIAS), who took time from hectic schedules to be part of a fast-moving “Michigan Matters: Motor City Special.”

Watch Michigan Matters Sundays at 11 a.m. on WWJ-TV CBS Detroit.

Click on a segment to watch online.

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Both men are seasoned automotive executives: Bing as former CEO of Bing Steel,  an automotive supplier for 20-plus years before he transitioned into the equally tough world of politics; and Perkins, who runs the Perkins Automotive Group, which includes Merollis Chevrolet and Taylor Chevrolet.

“The auto industry had to make adjustments and painful decisions to get them to where they are today,” said Bing. “If they hadn’t done those things, we wouldn’t be sitting here today with all three surviving.”

Perkins, who has kept a grueling schedule for months along with the Detroit Auto Dealers Association (DADA) team that has called Cobo Center home the past few months — to take care of millions of details that have helped make this year’s show one of the most successful in years — took time to reflect. “What this show has done is tell the world the Motor City is back!” said Perkins, talking about General Motors, Ford and Chrysler.

“We’re seeing more excitement and enthusiasm in this industry that we haven’t seen in years,” Perkins said.

Discussing Cobo Center, which is in the midst of a $279 million facelift, Rod Alberts, executive director of the DADA, said better times are ahead. The DADA signed a five-year deal that keeps the influential international show that attracts over 5,000 journalists from across the globe at Cobo.

Michigan Matters Cain Snyder

Michigan Matters host Carol Cain interviews Gov. Rick Snyder at the North American International Auto Show where they talked about autos and more. (credit: Tom Watkins

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Gov. Rick Snyder, who is one year into his term and another former CEO turned politician, took notes from talking to many auto CEOs. 

“This is great being here and seeing what they were able to do in turning these companies around and the end products … these incredible cars,” he said. Bob King, president of the United Auto Workers, talked about the turbulent times his organization had to weather along with the Detroit Three. “Our members worked hard and did what we had to do make sure GM, Ford and Chrysler survived,” said King.

Congressman John Dingell, the longest serving member of Congress, recalled the first time he attended the Detroit show. “Ford was showing a new Model A,” he said with a smile as U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray La Hood, who attended the show with other notables from Washington and the Obama administration, looked on. LaHood said he was driving a Chevy Malibu and was admiring the new domestic models.

“You can’t go wrong when you bet on the American worker,” La Hood said, referring to criticism some have leveled at the administration for helping two of the Detroit Three with loans to get through rocky times.

Indeed, the help was truly non-partisan as the Bush administration was also involved in helping the industry which was rocked to its core by the 2008 global economic meltdown. No doubt, the topic of government loans and forced bankruptcies and rebound of GM and Chrysler will be hot fodder for the 2012 presidential contest.

Speaking of rebounds, Bing, a National Basketball Association All-Star and legend who dominated the league a few decades ago was asked, which is tougher: facing Oscar Robertson who was his longtime rival on the court or turning around the city of Detroit?

You can hear his answer, which may surprise you, on “Michigan Matters: Motor City Special.” Click on a segment above.

The North American International Auto Show is open through this Sunday, Jan. 22.

Get full details in our Guide To The Auto Show.

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Carol Cain is the Emmy winning Senior Producer and Host of WWJ-TV CBS Detroit’s “Michigan Matters” which airs 11 a.m. Sundays. She writes a column in Sunday’s Detroit Free Press on business and politics. You can reach her at 248-355-7126 or