By Bookmarked and Martin Patriquin - Friday, March 1, 2013 - 0 Comments
Newsflash: Detroit is a mess. It’s been a mess for a long time, and will continue its slow circle of the drain thanks to corruption, greed and racism so ingrained and institutionalized that it’s almost a collective reflex amongst whites and blacks alike.
Such is the background for LeDuff’s uniquely bleak parade of human misery through Motor City. A Detroit native himself, LeDuff returned home after an acrimonious split with the New York Times. Ensconced at the Detroit News, he began to write the stories that serve as the basis for his book. A seven-year-old girl who is shot and killed in a botched police raid; a mayor who rides his Escalade through the ruins of his city; firefighters who can’t extinguish a blaze in their own firehouse because of budget cuts; a hopelessly corrupt city council woman with a charming smile and bulging breasts; cops in porkpie hats; a dead body encased in ice: LeDuff revisits them all and his own family, a suitably hardscrabble collection of ne’er-do-wells. (His sister was a hooker, one of his brothers polishes screws for a living.)
LeDuff, a Pulitzer Prize winner, has a tendency to lay it on a bit thick. He seems almost ashamed that he writes, rather than punch sheet metal, for a living. And his evident scorn for his snobby former Times editors is too frequent a distraction. But his narrative, like the city itself, is compelling and tragic. You get the feeling that the tufts of Detroit’s renewal—downtown’s Renaissance Center, around midtown’s Wayne State University, among others—will remain just that: tufts, blowing helplessly in a city that gave up hope a long time ago.
Visit the Maclean’s Bookmarked blog for news and reviews on all things literary
By Chris Sorensen - Monday, January 14, 2013 at 11:06 AM - 0 Comments
This year’s North American International Auto Show is underway this week in Detroit. And there’s little doubt that hometown favourites Ford, GM and Chrysler, the latter two just four years out of bankruptcy protection, are firmly back in the driver’s seat.
The annual industry bash on the banks of the Detroit River kicked off Sunday night when GM unveiled its 2014 Chevrolet Corvette “Stingray”—an all-American car if there ever was one. GM North America president Mark Reuss told reporters that while the revival of the “Stingray” moniker is a nod to the Corvette’s muscle-car history, the new version is intended to be a high-performance vehicle on par with anything built by its rivals. “I will eagerly put this car up against any of the top performance cars in the world,” he said. “In terms of design, technology and performance this car is second to none.”
On Monday, GM took home a North American Car of the Year award for the Cadillac ATS. Chrysler, meanwhile, won the North American Truck/Utility of the Year award for its Ram 1500 pick-up, suggesting there’s still a lot of mileage left in big burly vehicles in an age of small, fuel-efficient cars and hybrids (there are also rumours that Ford will unveil a concept version of its best-selling F-150 pick up truck). That’s in stark contrast to previous years when vehicle-of-the-year winners included electric vehicles like they Chevy Volt and Nissan’s Leaf, or small cars made by Korea’s Hyundai.
Though there are still dozens more vehicle announcements scheduled, the show’s first few hours suggests that the Motor City is back doing what it does best. And that’s no small feat given that obituaries of the former U.S. “Big Three” automakers were being written just a few years ago.
By Jessica Allen - Thursday, July 5, 2012 at 3:41 PM - 0 Comments
Inside the homes of the city’s captains of industry
Here’s Nick Kohler’s story on the ultimate Motor City reno.
By Nicholas Köhler - Thursday, July 5, 2012 at 10:30 AM - 0 Comments
Boston-Edison, once home to greats like Henry Ford, is reclaimed amid the rot
For much of the last century, the home Henry Ford built in Detroit’s genteel Boston-Edison district was occupied by the Rev. Florence B. Crews, long-time pastor of the Temple of Light, a church whose teachings fused Christianity and astrology. Rev. Crews began living in the house in 1941, when she and her husband, O. James Crews, known on local radio broadcasts as the “Voice of the Planets,” walled in the fireplace, hung heavy curtains in the windows and filled Ford’s parlour with enough folding chairs to accommodate the dozens of worshippers who gathered there on Thursday and Sunday nights.
Apart from these religious services, the couple used the house as a place to practise what the Rev. Crews referred to in court testimony—residents had brought an action against her for running a church out of the home—as “the business or vocation of reading horoscopes for pay.” These sessions could cost as much as US$150—equivalent to US$2,000 today—and made use of “charts, tables of the solar system and the zodiacal heavens, time of birth, blackboards, a book of ephemeral places and the sidereal time as calculated at Greenwich at noon.”
It was a long way from the business Ford conducted while living there. Back in 1908, the same year he built the house, Ford put the Model T into production, and he lived there when he implemented his revolutionary assembly-line manufacturing process and doubled the wages he paid his factory hands to $5 a day—high enough that they could buy automobiles of their own, a significant step in the development of a powerful American working class.
By Gustavo Vieira - Tuesday, February 14, 2012 at 10:30 AM - 0 Comments
Chrysler that has staged the most miraculous comeback of all the automakers
When the U.S. auto industry collapsed, it seemed likely that the Detroit Big Three (Ford, General Motors and Chrysler) would become the Big Two—and even more likely that the automaker that wouldn’t survive the so-called “Carmageddon” would be Chrysler. But it is Chrysler that has staged the most miraculous comeback of all. Since emerging from bankruptcy and repaying its government loans in 2009, the smaller of the Detroit Three is now leading the pack. In January, Chrysler was the top-selling car brand in Canada, with sales up 22 per cent. In the U.S., sales jumped 44 per cent, the biggest rise among major automakers. Chrysler’s controlling company, Italy’s Fiat, recently reported it more than doubled its net income in 2011—all thanks to Chrysler’s performance. Chrysler achieved all of this without rolling out any revolutionary new vehicles, like the GM Volt. To the contrary, its sales went up thanks to its Jeep brand models, Ram trucks and its existing sedans, like the Chrysler 300 (assembled in Brampton, Ont.). Next up for Chrysler: an even better 2012, forecasts Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne, who is preparing the company for an initial public offering and the launch of an anticipated new line of vehicles based on Fiat models.
By Joanne Latimer - Wednesday, January 25, 2012 at 8:40 AM - 0 Comments
Book by Jeffrey Zaslow
Fowler, Mich., is known for one thing: Becker’s Bridal, run by the Mueller family. Some 7,000 brides annually make the pilgrimage to Becker’s three-storey shop, 90 minutes northwest of Detroit, with their moms, bridesmaids, emotional baggage, and wilful optimism. In his touching book, Zaslow uses Becker’s as a prism through which to view different takes on marriage, tradition and love. While the concept sounds sappy enough for Disney, the book is clear-eyed about modern marriage and the wedding industry. Along the way, readers get a fascinating portrait of a one-horse town with a family business threatened by the Internet.
The father of three girls, Zaslow is curious about the magical pull of a wedding dress. Shelly Becker Mueller lets him meet her clients and write about their lives, while dishing about today’s brides. They may know the kind of wedding dress they want, but they don’t have any clear sense of the kind of life they want or the kind of man who might best accompany them. There’s a sense of entitlement that seems to increase every year, thanks, in part, to shows like Bridezillas. Becker Mueller, herself divorced, sees a new intolerance for imperfect relationships, and she has a room, the Dress Cemetery, piled with dresses from broken engagements, to prove it.
Zaslow follows a handful of customers (an “old” bride, a bride injured in a car accident, one who took a vow of purity) on their complicated path to the altar, all the while scattering divorce statistics throughout. In the end, Zaslow’s big heart wins out and the book becomes dangerously sentimental. How does he get away with it? Readers feel him rooting for his daughters, vicariously through Becker’s, and holding out hope for a happy ever-after.
By the editors - Thursday, November 24, 2011 at 3:00 PM - 30 Comments
There is an undeniable genius in finding mass public acceptance
When Detroit Lions fan Dennis Guttman heard that Nickelback would be playing during his team’s halftime show on American Thanksgiving this week, he wondered why organizers had picked a Canadian act, let alone one with a such an awful reputation. (A U.K. magazine once voted it “the worst band in the world.”) Guttman started a petition to have it booted from the show, and within weeks drew over 50,000 signatures and international attention. “Does anyone even like Nickelback?” he wrote.
For the band from Hanna, Alta., this kind of pile-on is nothing new. They’ve been taking abuse from armchair music critics since they broke on the scene in 2000. When reports emerged that Nickelback might be performing in Winnipeg to kick off the NHL season, Free Press music critics called on the NHL to scrap the plan, calling it “tantamount to spitting on Bobby Hull’s toupée.”
There have always been bands that people dislike, or dismiss as overrated and artless. But the response to Nickelback goes far beyond that—to the point where some say they are ashamed the band is Canadian. It is a view so vicious it borders on cruel. And it’s just plain wrong.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, May 10, 2011 at 12:25 PM - 8 Comments
In the meantime, the federal government should back “prep work” needed for a Windsor to Montreal high-speed network, such as building road-rail grade separations, Masse said. Improving travel time from Windsor to Toronto by an hour to 90 minutes should be the initial goal, he said. “It’s doesn’t have to be high-speed, but can be higher speed,” Masse said. “Then it becomes real viable. That’s when we have a real ability to start connecting it internationally.”
By Chris Sorensen - Wednesday, April 20, 2011 at 3:20 PM - 7 Comments
A battle over a new bridge linking Windsor and Detroit heats up
Michigan’s newly elected Republican governor, Rick Snyder, recently endorsed a proposed US$2-billion bridge linking Detroit, Mich., with Windsor, Ont., over the Detroit River. The new span, first pitched back in 2004, is deemed necessary to alleviate chronic congestion at the nearby Ambassador Bridge, which was erected in 1929 and is now the busiest crossing between Canada and the United States, the world’s biggest trading partners.
Just one problem. The Ambassador Bridge is, unusually, a privately owned and operated crossing, and Michigan’s wealthy Moroun family, headed by 83-year-old Manuel “Matty” Moroun, is fighting tooth and nail to protect the value of its 1979 investment in this key piece of international infrastructure. The reclusive family also owns a trucking empire and huge swaths of property in both Windsor and Detroit, much of which has fallen into disrepair. With the state’s legislature set to vote on the New International Trade Crossing proposal this spring, the Ambassador Bridge’s owners recently launched a US$400,000 ad campaign to convince Michigan voters that a competing, publicly funded bridge would be a huge boondoggle.
To get their point across to legislators, the Morouns also hired Fox News analyst Dick Morris as a lobbyist. Morris, a one-time Clinton adviser who now speaks at Tea Party events, has painted the bridge as yet another case of reckless government spending, which threatens to resonate in a state hit hard by the recession and grappling with a US$1.4-billion budget shortfall. “I’m delighted we have a Republican governor, I just wish he’d act like one,” he said of Snyder during a recent interview with a local Detroit radio station.
By Chris Sorensen - Tuesday, April 5, 2011 at 3:56 PM - 0 Comments
Census data shows Detroit’s population is down 25 per cent from a decade ago
Beaten up and left for dead, the city of Detroit finally appeared to be climbing back to its feet earlier this year. The auto industry was off life-support and a Super Bowl commercial, courtesy of Chrysler, created national buzz by favourably depicting Motown as the gritty, down-but-never-out heartbeat of America. And then reality set in. Recent U.S. census data showed that Detroit’s population had plummeted to 713,777 residents, down 25 per cent from a decade ago and its lowest level in 100 years, as families—both black and white—fled the city’s poverty and urban blight for affluent suburbs.
For city hall, the new numbers mean even more abandoned houses and vacant buildings to maintain on a dwindling tax base. Worse, there may now be less money coming from state and federal assistance programs, many of which use a population of 750,000 as a cut-off, which is why Mayor Dave Bing is demanding a recount. Others argue it’s time for Detroit to begin the tough slog of reinventing itself, consolidating some neighbourhoods and razing others. “It is time for all of us to realign our expectations so that they reflect today’s realities,” Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder told ABC News. “We cannot cling to the old ways of doing business.”
By Chris Sorensen - Thursday, February 24, 2011 at 3:17 PM - 2 Comments
Ford filed a lawsuit to stop Ferrari from calling its new race car the F150
Say the phrase “F-150″ and chances are an image of Ford Motor Co.’s burly pickup truck comes to mind. So when Italian carmaker Ferrari recently announced that its new Formula 1 race car would also be called the F150, the Detroit automaker’s lawyers were quick to claim trademark infringement.
Ferrari later backed off by pledging to use only the racer’s full name, the Ferrari F150th Italia (it’s Italy’s 150th anniversary this year). Besides, Ferrari said in a statement last week, “there can be no way to confuse the one-seater for the next F1 championship with any other vehicle.” But Ford refuses to budge and is pursuing its lawsuit, which likely has something to do with the F-150′s title as the bestselling pickup in the U.S. for three decades running. It’s a different sort of race, and, given Detroit’s suffering over the past few years, one Ford simply can’t afford to lose.
By Chris Sorensen - Friday, January 14, 2011 at 12:01 PM - 1 Comment
Detroit rediscovers its old swagger as Toyota is stuck answering questions
They may no longer be the “Big Three,” but General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Group LLC were eager to use this year’s Detroit auto show to show the world there’s a Motor City comeback in the making. Amid the usual pulsing lights, puffs of dry ice and pounding music, Olivier Francois, president of the Chrysler brand, stood before a throng of automotive journalists and made references to 8 Mile, the 2002 movie starring Eminem as a white rapper who earns the respect of his peers in a hardscrabble Detroit neighbourhood, as he attempted to whip up enthusiasm for a redesigned Chrysler 300 sedan. “Today you will see what happens when we are backed into a corner,” he said, invoking the image of a prizefighter, before the 300 drove onto the stage and the ear-splitting decibels increased even further. “You will see that we come out swinging.”
Buoyed by recovering sales and corporate restructurings that are finally gaining traction, similar gestures of confidence were also on display by GM, which along with new small cars proudly displayed its silver and yellow Cadillac CTS-V race car (to mark the brand’s return to auto racing), and Ford, the only one of the three Detroit-based automakers that didn’t file for bankruptcy protection or take a government bailout. Ford’s blue-themed display rivalled the size of GM’s and Toyota’s, despite it being a smaller automaker. Ford also introduced a racy-looking Vertrek concept that could one day replace the Escape crossover. “Motown has got its mojo back, obviously” said Dennis DesRosiers, a Canadian automotive analyst.
And, interestingly, for every ounce of hometown swagger—something that had all but disappeared from the North American International Auto Show since the recession hit—there appeared to be a corresponding retreat from the big-name Japanese automakers who’d spent the last few decades eating the Detroit Three’s lunch. Toyota Motor Corp. executives spent much of their time at the Cobo Center, on the banks of the ice-filled Detroit River, answering questions about last year’s recalls of millions of vehicles, as opposed to talking about new models.
But what happens at the Detroit show, with its vast expanses of carpet, soaring displays and dazzlingly lit vehicles, is not always a reliable indicator of what’s likely to take place inside dealers’ showrooms. While the turnaround story at GM, Ford and Chrysler is real, there is still much work to be done. And it’s not like rivals have been standing still for the past couple of years waiting for Detroit to get its act together. Competition will be fierce.
Like other automakers, GM, Ford and Chrysler beneﬁted immensely from last year’s rebounding auto sales in the United States, which grew 11 per cent to 11.6 million after hitting a low of 10.4 million a year earlier. While that’s still a far cry from the 16 million or so vehicles that were being sold prior to the recession, Ford and GM are nevertheless expected to report billions in 2010 profit (Chrysler, still the weakest of the three, is also closing in on the break-even mark after posting losses for the past few years). “The big thing that’s probably shocked everybody is that these car companies can now make money at vastly reduced volumes,” says Jeremy Anwyl, the chief executive of automotive website of Edmunds.com. “They are talking about break-evens now at sales levels of about 11 million a year. To put that in perspective, just a few years ago sales of 14 million would have been perceived as a disaster.”
GM underwent a particularly dramatic overhaul during its 2009 bankruptcy to emerge as a leaner and more focused company. It dumped debt, slashed half of its brands and took steps to wean itself off a destructive habit of relying on steep incentives—zero per cent financing and cash-back deals—to juice sales. “We have to keep our foot on the accelerator here,” said Mark Reuss, the president of GM’s North American division, moments before Chevrolet introduced a sleek new subcompact car called Sonic, which will be sold alongside Chevy’s compact-sized Cruze. “But I think we’re running North America with the right philosophy.”
And, to top it off, the company took a major step toward shedding its “Government Motors” stigma through a successful IPO in November that raised US$23 billion, helping to pay down roughly US$50 billion worth of loans from Washington and Ottawa.
Chrysler also filed for Chapter 11 in 2009 and, in exchange for bailout cash, agreed to a marriage with Italian carmaker Fiat. Despite a lack of new models to sell last year, it too managed to post an impressive 16.5 per cent increase in U.S. sales to 1.1 million vehicles, hitting the target set by CEO Sergio Marchionne. He is now predicting sales increases of 25 per cent in 2011 as Chrysler sends its new 300 sedan to showrooms alongside a vastly overhauled Sebring sedan, now called the 200. Chrysler will also be selling the tiny Fiat 500 in North America, although analysts say it will be the incorporation of Fiat’s small car technology in future models that will truly determine Chrysler’s future.
Ford has taken a different road, having had a head start on its restructuring. With several popular new models and quality rankings that now rival Japanese automakers, Ford’s U.S. sales soared 19 per cent in 2010, and the company managed to increase its market share there for the second time in two years. It also ousted GM as Canada’s sales leader for the first time in more than half a century.
There’s more to come. In Detroit, Ford introduced a new seven-passenger C-Max minivan, marking a return to a segment it abandoned in 2006. It also showed off two five-seat C-Max variants powered by regular hybrid and plug-in hybrid engines (regular hybrids alternate between gas and electric power, while plug-in hybrids run solely on electric power until the charge is depleted and a gas engine takes over), and an electric version of its Focus small car. “The fuel-efficiency story is going to be a major one,” said David Mondragon, the CEO of Ford Canada. He added, however, that Ford has a “very balanced approach to the marketplace,” ranging from the tiny but well-equipped Fiesta subcompact to Ford’s bestselling F-150 pickup trucks. “And with flexible manufacturing, we can build whatever consumers want.”
Having the right mix will be critical as analysts forecast a continued recovery in the all-important U.S. market. Jeff Schuster, director of automotive forecasting for JD Power and Associates, predicts sales of 12.8 million vehicles in the U.S. this year followed by 15 million units in 2012 and a return to nearly 16 million a year later. (Canadian sales increases will be less dramatic, rising to 1.6 million next year compared to 1.5 million in 2010, but only because the market didn’t collapse as badly.) That suggests big profits down the road for Ford, Chrysler and GM, providing they can hang on to their current combined 45 per cent market share, up one percentage point from last year.
By Chris Sorensen - Thursday, January 13, 2011 at 2:32 PM - 0 Comments
The awkwardness of this year’s Detroit auto show (plus VIDEO)
Three years ago, Chrysler hired cowboys to herd 120 longhorn cattle through downtown Detroit to generate excitement for its Dodge Ram pick-up truck during the North American International Auto Show. The carmaker has also dropped trucks from the ceiling of the Cobo Center, where the show is held, and driven a Jeep through a plate glass window.
These days, however, over-the-top stunts have largely disappeared from the annual auto industry bash, thanks mainly to the latest recession and a taxpayer bailout of the industry. “People would think we were back on the bottle,” joked one Chrysler executive when asked if Chrysler (now married to Italy’s Fiat) would ever consider rounding up more cattle.
But don’t worry. It’s not as though automobile industry has suddenly purged its long-standing penchant for displays of cheesiness. Despite considerable effort to highlight the improved fuel efficiency of their vehicles (aimed more at government regulators than actual car buyers, according to some analysts), the industry still managed to slip a healthy dose of what it believes truly sells cars into this year’s Detroit auto show: sex, speed and loud music. And the results were frequently amusing.
From rock n’ roll to women wearing tight clothing, the auto show was full of examples of the industry’s marketing crutches. There were burly trucks caked with mud, alien-looking concept vehicles, and modified race cars that appeared designed solely for gear-heads to salivate over. Take, for example, Porsche’s 918 RSR, a hybrid car with a pair of electric motors driven by a giant flywheel sitting where a passenger would normally be. The system wasn’t designed to save fuel, mind you—it’s a way to boost its regular 555 horsepower output to 767 hp with a push of a button.
When it came to dramatic unveilings, Chrysler, perhaps predictably given its past, led the way with its introduction of the Chrysler 300 and 200 sedans. Before the cars were driven out on to the stage, hundreds of journalists were subjected to a frenetic mash-up of pounding hip-hop beats, tinkling piano music, images of cute children and references to underdogs who triumph over adversity. To top it off, the president of Chrysler’s brand, Francois Olivier, recited rap lyrics from an Eminem song. In a French accent.
There were other instances of worlds colliding, awkwardly, when Honda unveiled its 2012 Civic concept. John Mendel, executive vice-president of American Honda, gave the usual car salesman’s pitch about the new Civic’s more aggressive lines—he said Civic fans are typically “young at heart” —but stressed the need to avoid straying too far from the look of the existing model, which has been a big seller. Translation: “Civics used to be popular with young people, but then their parents started buying them too, and so we made them bigger and more boring-looking. And so, in an attempt to please both groups, we came up with this.” Then, as if to underscore the generational conflict further, he introduced Pete Wentz, best known as the bassist and primary lyricist for rock band Fall Out Boy. Wentz looked uncomfortable shilling for a car company, and it’s questionable whether the two or three hundred automotive writers crowded around the stage, many of them from overseas, even knew who he was.
Even Toyota, known for its practical-yet-boring vehicles, also couldn’t resist trying to jazz up its sprawling display with a little pop culture. Dropped between the Camrys and Corrolas was a stretched and lowered “swagger wagon,” a reference to a tongue-in-cheek viral ad Toyota made for its minivans that shows a pair of suburban parents rapping about their ride with three rows of seats. Okay, the ad was actually quite clever. And Toyota should be commended for poking fun at its staid reputation. But CEO Akio Toyoda, the grandson of Toyota’s founder, addressed the more serious subject of Toyota’s slipping sales by saying during a meeting with reporters that Toyota needs to be more adventurous with its designs, particularly now that the competition has caught up on the quality front. “I think cars need to be better-looking,” he said through a translator. “The better-looking the car, the better the car.” A blunt acknowledgment that automobiles are created with cutting edge technology and clever engineering, but they are sold based largely on good looks and emotional appeal. Cue the stirring music and images of open road.
By Jason Kirby - Thursday, September 16, 2010 at 10:40 AM - 0 Comments
Despite consumer anxiety, Carlos Gomes sees improvements in the industrial side of the U.S. economy
All hangovers are bad. Delayed hangovers are diabolical. Anyone who’s woken up feeling surprisingly fine after a late night on the town, only to crumple in agony later on, knows that. Now, so too does everyone who thought the strong rebound in America’s auto sector could continue unabated.
After months of improving sales, U.S. car buyers stayed home in August. Dealers unloaded roughly 997,000 cars and trucks, down five per cent from July and a whopping 21 per cent decline from a year ago. Not since 1983 did Americans buy fewer vehicles in August. A year ago, of course, was the peak of Washington’s Cash for Clunkers stimulus plan, which saw the government offer up to US$4,500 to people who traded in gas guzzlers for new cars. And for a while the shot of adrenalin had the desired effect on the broader economy. Manufacturing levels ﬁnally began to rise, shell-shocked consumers rediscovered some of their confidence, and overall retail sales seemed to benefit.
By Chris Sorensen - Thursday, February 11, 2010 at 1:10 PM - 0 Comments
The underwear bomber’s trial could help Detroit
When accused underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried unsuccessfully to blow up a jet destined for Detroit on Christmas Day, it made the city the focal point for one of the year’s scariest stories. Many in Motown must have wondered, why us? Detroit has been handed more than its fair share of chilling news in recent years—though mostly of the economic variety. The bankruptcy filings of two of the former “Big Three” Detroit automakers last year capped off decades of industrial decline. Unemployment is soaring, and downtown office towers now sit ominously vacant. But is there a silver lining here for the hard-luck city?
If Abdulmutallab’s trial is held in Detroit, as many anticipate, it could ultimately give the local economy a badly needed shot in the arm. That’s because it promises to be a long affair that draws a mob of U.S. and foreign media—not to mention deep-pocketed lawyers—to the U.S. District Court in downtown Detroit, where they will stay in local hotels, eat in local restaurants, and perhaps shop in local stores. Tourist experts say short conferences of even a few hundred people can inject hundreds of thousands of dollars into local economies; the Detroit auto show is estimated to pump $320 million into the region each year, despite running for just two weeks. The debate about whether to move the bigger Sept. 11 attacks trials out of New York City because of concerns about soaring security costs and local disruptions highlights the impact such high-profile events can have on local communities.
In the heyday of the U.S. auto industry, Detroit grew to become the country’s fourth-largest city with a population over 1.8 million. But a flight to the suburbs that picked up speed after the riot of 1967, coupled with the falling fortunes of General Motors, Ford and Chrysler, left it with just over 900,000 residents. While the trial of an alleged terrorist is not going to reverse that trend, it could help provide a temporary financial lift for a city that sorely needs a little bit of good news.
By Jason Kirby - Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 12:40 PM - 2 Comments
Carmakers are talking green, but buyers still want their big trucks
At the height of the U.S. economic crisis, one of the most potent symbols of American excess was the gas-guzzling sport utility vehicle. When oil prices spiked and millions of Americans lost their jobs, sales of big trucks collapsed, taking General Motors, Chrysler and nearly Ford with them. Only small cars would have a future in this more frugal, sensible economy, we were told. Well, so much for that.
The SUV is back, and American drivers can’t get enough of them. According to Ford, sales of the Expedition jumped 45 per cent in December, while the Lincoln Navigator was up 60 per cent. GM, meanwhile, has announced plans to spend US$1 billion revitalizing its lineup of full-size pickups. The companies are still heavily focused on smaller, fuel-efficient vehicles, and the next generation of SUVs will undoubtedly do better on gas. But any notion that the SUV would go the way of the Model T is gone.
By Mark Steyn - Thursday, January 21, 2010 at 9:13 AM - 206 Comments
Airport ‘security’ has to pretend all seven billion of us on this planet are an equal threat
A couple of days after the Christmas Day Pantybomber tried to light up his gusset on the approach to Detroit, I was at a small airport in Vermont shuffling through the line to what they call the “sterile” area. Anyway, I handed over my driver’s licence and, as he had done with all the previous passengers, the Transportation Security Administration agent examined it. And examined it. And examined it some more. He had a loupe, one of those magnifying glasses jewellers use to examine diamonds for any surface blemishes or internal flaws. In this case, he was deploying it to examine how the ink lies on the paper. And when he’d finished doing that he got out his UV light to study the watermark on my licence.
And, looking down at his bald patch as he went about his work with loving care, I was overcome by a sudden urge to point out that nobody had ever blown up a U.S. airliner with a fake driver’s licence. Why bother going to all that trouble when a real one is so easy to get? On Sept. 11, 2001, four of the terrorists boarded the flight with genuine, valid picture ID issued by the state of Virginia and obtained through the illegal-immigrant day-workers’ network run out of the parking lot of the 7-Eleven in Falls Church. Almost two years earlier, Ahmed Ressam, the Millennium Bomber, had been arrested on the British Columbia-Washington state border travelling on a genuine Canadian passport. In that instance, the terrorist had been stopped because the guard thought he seemed nervous when she looked him in the eye. But in Vermont the guy didn’t look me or anybody else in the eye. He remained hunched over his loupes and licences—no doubt in part because if he looked me or any other regular air traveller in the eye all he’d see staring back at him was an expression of total contempt at the pointless and stupid “security.” So they avoid looking at you, and instead peer through their magnifiers, and amble back and forth barking out the rules about how the three-ounce containers of liquids and gels have to be placed in a one-quart zip-top clear plastic bag, and rummage through your carry-on for more and more proscribed items. But they never look at you. Because they’re not looking for terrorists. They’re looking for things, and an ever-growing list of them.
By Paul Wells - Friday, January 15, 2010 at 10:45 AM - 66 Comments
Like bin Laden, Abdulmutallab wanted to create chaos.
“Consider this hypothetical,” Andrew Sullivan wrote in The Atlantic three years ago. “It’s November 2008. A young Pakistani Muslim is watching television and sees that this man—Barack Hussein Obama—is the new face of America. In one simple image, America’s soft power has been ratcheted up not a notch, but a logarithm . . . If you wanted the crudest but most effective weapon against the demonization of America that fuels Islamist ideology, Obama’s face gets close.”
Yeah, not so much. In December 2009, a young Nigerian Muslim saw the new face of America, Barack Hussein Obama, on his television and kept sewing high explosive into his underwear. On Christmas Day, the man, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, wore his stuffed shorts onto Northwest Flight 253 from Amsterdam, tried to detonate them over Detroit, and the rest is hysteria.
So it turns out that the mere sight of a black President with Muslims among his ancestors won’t stop a terrorist cold in his tracks. There was something almost sweet about the idea: maybe murderous hatred of the United States could be tipped back into something more benign, simply by showing George W. Bush and Dick Cheney the door. It would be excellent if it were true, but it isn’t. And that wasn’t the only myth that blew up when Abdulmutallab’s pants did.
By Steve Maich - Friday, December 12, 2008 at 10:16 AM - 38 Comments
BY STEVE MAICH
The Congressional plan to bail out the Detroit auto industry died a swift death last night, but the White House may yet swoop in with a unilateral bailout of its own. Reports surfaced this morning to suggest that the Treasury Department, on the authority of the President (and presumably the U.S. Fed) would tap the $700 billion fund to bail out Wall Street in order to get enough cash to Detroit to keep the companies afloat until next year.
That, of course, would finally destroy any notion that the U.S. Government is actually operating with a coherent plan. I know, I know…nobody really believed that anymore anyway. But the Trouble Asset Recovery Plan (TARP) was first supposed to buy up bad mortgage assets, then got converted into a giant bank account to buy bank stocks, and now, apparently, it might also branch out into the car business. This, dear friends, is what’s known as making it up as you go along.
Unlike my friend Andrew Coyne, I’m a little more sympathetic to the idea that governments can lend a helping hand to industry in times of trouble. That said, these bailout plans are disasters in the making. The best explanation of why can be found here (a column from a month ago in the Wall Street Journal by Michael Levine.) Continue…
By Colin Campbell - Friday, December 5, 2008 at 10:00 AM - 28 Comments
Driving on the 401 yesterday I noticed a big bumper sticker that read “Buy American”. Based on the car it was pasted on—a mid-90’s green Pontiac—I was inclinded to think, no thanks. But for the first time in a long time, the message made a lot of sense.
While the heads of the Detroit automakers try to hammer out a last-second bailout in Washington, dealerships across the continent are desperately trying to sell cars. The industry is paralyzed, but for car shoppers, there has never been a better time in automotive history to buy a car, especially an American one. According to the CAW, the Detroit auto makers are offering anywhere from $3,000 to $7,000 in incentives on most models. In the U.S., Ford is offering as much as $4,000 cash back on its Edge crossover/SUV. In Canada, the Edge comes with zero percent financing, with the first two payments free. Today, Ford is advertising “$12,000 price adjustments on selected 2008 models.” And it’s not just the Detroit Three slashing prices. Double digit declines in sales have all automakers scrambling to move inventory. And ‘zero percent’ financing has become the industry’s new rally cry. Toyota’s “Saved By Zero” TV ad, for instance, has become infamous.
But more importantly, the American automakers are quite suddenly offering some very well-built and (dare I say) stylish cars. The Pontiac G8 was dubbed the new BMW by one influential auto blog (see below). Motor Trend named GM’s Cadillac CTS the 2008 Car of the Year. And along with the Chevy Malibu and Corvette, it was also in Car and Driver’s 10 Best Cars ranking. It would be a great loss (and an economic disaster) if even one of the Detroit companies fell. But if you’re thinking of buying a car, now’s the time.
By Colin Campbell - Thursday, November 20, 2008 at 8:00 AM - 36 Comments
As GM files bankruptcy, a look at who’s to blame and what’s next for the U.S. auto industry
UPDATE (June 1, 2009): General Motors, the once proud icon of U.S. capitalism, filed for bankruptcy Monday. In the following piece, published last November in Maclean’s, Colin Campbell navigates through the rise and fall of the U.S. auto industry. In doing so, he identifies what went wrong at GM and explains whether the car company is even worth saving.
In hall No. 5, tucked far away from the main action at the high-profile Paris Motor Show last month, visitors who looked hard enough would have found the booth belonging to General Motors Corp. Those who went to the trouble—and not many did—were disappointed with what they found.
Paris was the place GM had decided to raise the curtain on a critical piece of its future in a world increasingly focused on efficiency and economy—the Chevy Cruze. The Detroit company is pinning its hopes on the lightweight Cruze to lure car buyers in Asia, Europe and North America away from bestsellers like the Honda Civic. Yet there were none of the usual showbiz trappings at its unveiling: no models leaning against the hood, no rock-concert special effects to usher in the age of the Cruze. Just a plain white stage and the car itself: a conventional, even understated, four-door family sedan. It “had all the pomp and circumstance of a Tuesday,” noted one auto critic. Perhaps it was just as well then that few journalists bothered to show up.
Most automakers look to the Paris show to highlight their next small, fuel-efficient wonders. It’s a science fair disguised as a car show. Mercedes-Benz and BMW were unveiling their first hybrids. Nissan snagged attention with its tiny Nuvu. Hyundai brought along its new mini-car, the i20. But at GM’s second-floor exhibit, visitors were confronted by a collection of massive Hummers and a hulking Cadillac Escalade. “This was emblematic of GM,” says Maryann Keller, an independent auto analyst who has covered the industry since the 1970s. “Here’s this show dedicated to small cars, new technologies, electric vehicles. Why, to Paris, would you bring Hummers, the Escalade and a Camaro? What planet are you on?” Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, August 5, 2008 at 12:53 PM - 0 Comments
“Detroiters are scraping the bottom of the barrel when it comes to quality elected officials. The makeup of much of the school board, city council, mayor’s office and Detroit delegation in the state Legislature are proof positive, painfully reinforced by the tendency of voters to repeatedly elect candidates with little integrity or judgment about what constitutes good public service.
“Clearly, Detroit is in need of a better mix of educated, sophisticated voters to reconfigure and revitalize the social, political and economic environment.”