The Chrysler 200C EV's design team grabbed their time in the spotlight during the concept car's debut at the Detroit auto show. (Santa Fabio)
DETROIT -- There was no look of despair on the faces of the Chrysler design team as they took pictures next to a concept sedan that surprised many among the international media when the car was unveiled last week at the Detroit auto show.
Nobody expected the debut of the Chrysler 200C EV because headlines had screamed that the company's product development had basically ended in anticipation of the automaker's closure. But Chrysler did it anyway, despite the naysayers, despite the cutbacks that were evident even in the automaker's uncharacteristically bare-bones display -- and that made the photo op all the more important.
It was a quiet moment and most of the people hovering around the sleek sedan were unknowns among auto celebrities -- but not insignificant. They were the ones who for the last few years did their jobs despite the distractions. They patted each other on the back and smiled as they stood next to the 200C and had their pictures taken. It was their turn in the spotlight.
It was a proud moment in what has otherwise been a frightening past few months for Chrysler LLC and its employees -- and Michigan.
Automakers needed spark
Chrysler needed that moment. As did its crosstown rivals, General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co., which also surprised the press by showing off cars whose pictures hadn't been leaked to the media. The unveilings of the 200C, Lincoln C and Cadillac Converj concepts provided some much needed spark in what was otherwise a series of snoozer press events.
Frankly, I think the companies overplayed the austerity angle. Ford, for example, made little mention of its F-150 winning North American Truck of the Year and only rolled the pickup out at the very end of its press conference -- and then left it tucked away at the back of the stage.
I get that finances are tight and that Detroit's automakers have got to go the extra mile to fix their public image, but let's not ignore what people actually still buy.
Big 3 hasn't lost creativity
If you haven't been to the auto show yet, go. And take a long look at the concept cars from each of the Big Three. They'll remind you why Detroit matters and that the car companies around here don't stop innovating, even in the toughest of financial times.
"We're going to be OK," Chief Executive Robert Nardelli told me on Friday at the Charity Preview.
He didn't elaborate but I didn't expect him to because that's been the company line -- in fact, it's been the line from all three companies for the past few months. We talked for a while and he seemed upbeat. Of course, Nardelli also knew then that he was on the verge of announcing a deal with Fiat SpA, maker of small cars and high-end luxury marques Ferrari and Maserati.
That would make anybody's day.
Will it help the company survive? Let's hope so. Who knows. They've been through this dance before.
But if it works it will ensure that the teams behind the scenes at Chrysler -- and all the car companies -- will get to do what they do best: design, engineer and build cars and trucks that not only turn heads when they're unveiled as concepts, but when they hit the showrooms, too.