Then Chrysler-CEO Robert Nardelli at the auto show in 2009, a tough time for the industry. (Gary Malerba / AP)
For the second time in five years, the North American International Auto Show opens with Detroit under the gloomy cloud of bankruptcy and unanswered questions about its long-term viability. In 2009, it was the domestic auto industry that was in crisis, with General Motors Corp. and Chrysler Corp. in Chapter 11 and Ford Motor Co. mortgaged to its Blue Oval to stay out.
Today, itís the city of Detroit that is fighting for survival. Bankruptcy proceedings will continue in the federal courthouse downtown even as the resurgent automakers show off their dazzling new products a few blocks away in Cobo Center.
No one is doomsdaying the Big Three anymore. The hometown automakers have come roaring back on the strength of exciting new models, much more efficient operations and, in the case of GM and Chrysler, balance sheets cleaned up by the bankruptcy process.
The 5,000 or so journalists from throughout the world who will be in Detroit this week for press days should keep that in mind as they inevitably incorporate the cityís troubles into their coverage of the auto show.
We are not asking that they squint, or pretend not to see the blight and abandonment.
We see it, too.
And they canít be expected to ignore the contrast between the glitz and glamor of the auto show and the struggles of a city that canít keep enough cops on its street.
But the Big Three were in equal distress just a few short years ago, and look at them now. Detroit can match that comeback.
Thereís positive energy in the city, an optimism that defies the realities of its economic collapse.
People here believe Detroit can recover and thrive, and are determined that it do so. Thereís more regional and statewide support for Michiganís largest city now than there has been in decades.
Detroiters donít doubt their city will survive, or that itís on its way to a much brighter future. That comeback spirit should be part of whatever stories are told about Detroit this week.
We had long faces around here in 2009, and werenít much in the mood to party. Surely our visitors will notice the upbeat attitude of the people theyíll meet while theyíre here this year. And they may find it odd.
They can attribute the cheerfulness to the deep down belief that something good is happening in Detroit.
Repeat visitors will notice more energy and activity downtown. More bars and restaurants. More fun stuff to do than in past years. Theyíll find busier streets and cooler venues, a hipness that hasnít been attached to Detroit since the 1960s.
Perhaps theyíll leave with a fuller picture of Detroit, one that goes beyond the angst over unpaid bills, threatened pensions and the vulnerability of the art museum.
Detroit is bankrupt, but not broken.
Hopefully, that message will get out this week.