The automotive business blog from Simon Warburton
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Respected passenger comrades
11 Apr 2013 09:21
First day proper of the Russian Automotive Forum (RAF) in Moscow and we started bright-eyed and bushy-tailed first thing with a series of presentations by Russian government officials from Kaluga, Sverdlovsk and the Duma Parliament in Moscow.
The traffic in the Russian capital was a hot topic of conversation among the delegates during tea before the conference started and despite swapping tales of nightmare taxi journeys there is one extraordinary aspect of the Russian capital that merits praise.
There are almost no potholes. I can't quite believe it myself but having tramped around a fair bit of the city, it's true. It's even more unbelievable that for a capital city, Moscow must endure one of the harshest climates there is, but I hardly saw a single pothole.
Prime Minister Dimitri Medvedev's dramatic call for the great and the good of the Russian auto business to high-tail it to Nizhny Novgorod - home to GAZ Group 250 miles east of Moscow - meant a hasty redrawing of the speaker schedule - but the replacements were of very good quality and demonstrated some fancy footwork in stepping in at the last minute.
Former British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher's death yesterday has led to saturation coverage on all the TVs on in the World Trade Centre where the RAF is taking place - Russians asked me if I had heard the news and the fact Muscovites are talking about a politician who stepped down more than 20 years ago, shows the sheer power of her ideas and influence, whether you agree with her or not.
Ford Sollers CEO, Ted Cannis took to the stage, followed by Royal Air Force pilot and World Land Speed Record holder, Andy Green, for a presentation on his Bulldog project which aims to see him travel at er, 1,000mph on the ground.
I also had a one-to-one with General Motors director, supply chain and purchasing , Peter Layer and Jean-Christophe Marchal, general manager of PCMA, the Russian collaboration between PSA (70%) and Mitsubishi (30%) in Russia.
Sberbank organised a cocktail reception - replete with the chance to win a diamond - I didn't to add to my proud list of almost never having won anything - and it was a terrific chance to network.
The RAF had set up tall tables - just as CLEPA does in Brussels - and it makes for extremely good opportunities to chat in a hospitable atmosphere where folk can move around easily.
I'm at Domodedovo Airport now on the outskirts of Moscow and there's a roll-call of 'Stan' airlines being announced: Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, all to exotic-sounding destinations such as Osh, Bishkek and Tashkent.
I'm off to the slightly more prosaically named Munich - nonetheless a fascinating city in itself and then back to Birmingham.
Aeroflot apparently used to address its customers as:"Respected Passenger Comrades." I shouldn't think Lufthansa will do the same but I rather like the old way of calling people by a collective - it feels well - more Russian.
Russia springs back
09 Apr 2013 11:24
Moscow's long dark winter finally appears to be inching towards an end - evidence of which can be seen - and heard - by the audible cracking of the ice in the mighty Moskva River as Russia emerges from its deep freeze into spring.
I'm here for the Russian Automotive Forum (RAF) at the World Trade Centre and took a couple of hours to wander around this incredible city - where every stone seems to ooze history - good and bad.
Just a snapshot of how business has to think on its feet in Russia was news of the RAF having to radically revamp its speaker line-up after several CEOs were abruptly called to Nizhny Novgorod at the behest of Prime Minister - recently President - Dimitri Medvedev.
When the government calls like that, you get on the first available aircraft and although it's not clear yet what the summons was for, people tell me here it's certainly not unusual for events to change that rapidly.
A sign of Moscow's - and Russia's - extraordinary resurgence - is its grid-locked streets whose choking tragic is causing the city fathers - and me - some serious grief - so I took a deep breath and tried the huge Metro network yesterday.
It's fair to say as someone used to the London and Paris underground systems, the Moscow Metro is like nowhere else on earth. This is a subterranean marvel of imposing pillars, dramatic chandeliers and mosaics, an Aladdin's cave, that, given its Stalinist-era construction in 1935, is a complete show-stopper, replete with redoubtable Russian ladies at the bottom of escalators scrutinising all travellers.
That didn't prevent me becoming hopelessly confused by its Cyrillic alphabet mind but up sprang a helpful Muscovite to make sense of my map - and ticket - and not only take me to my destination but show me the vast Soviet war memorial at Park Pobedi (Victory Park) whose Metro station is reputed to have the world's longest escalator, which I can well believe. My helpful guide showed me through the Metro system, while his unofficial and knowledgeable tour of the Soviet memorial, he was previously in the military as so many in Russia, was fascinating. The kindness of strangers indeed.
The Germans were only 50km from Moscow apparently and the cost of that Great Patriotic War as they call it here - as well as Napoleon's 1812 retreat from the capital - are inscribed on walls, bridges and monuments everywhere.
I was also shown the stunning Russian Orthodox church of St George the Victorious - whose gold cupolas are echoed in every unlikely nook and cranny of Moscow - and I miraculously made my way back on the Metro - suddenly conscious people were staring at my 'Michigan' hoodie - purchased at Troy, Detroit's Walmart for US$12 if you please - to trendy Arbatskaya and then on foot to Krasnaya Ploshad or Red Square.
I was suddenly aware just in front of the Kremlin that the usual roar of endless traffic had abruptly halted and in fact was being held back by squadrons of police vehicles. The eerie silence - only replicated earlier by the war memorial - was now well and truly broken by the wailing of sirens and a motorcade of huge proportions. Nearby Russians said it was President Putin - who knows - but it's a sure bet the limo with blacked out windows was not going to be burdened with anything as trivial as Moscow's horrendous car jams.
I was looking at the Kremlin walls in front of which so many Soviet leaders and the Politburo had witnessed countless Red Square military parades - and sent a shiver down western spines to boot in the increasingly cold war - when a text came through of Baroness Thatcher's death - a poignantly apt place to hear of the news given the former British Prime Minister's role in fighting the extremes of communism.
And just a small footnote to show how far Moscow - and Russia - is powering ahead - not only in its traditional staples of oil and gas - but in business in general. As we landed at Moscow's Domodedovo Airport, I saw a British Airways 747 parked on the ramp.
A Boeing 747? For a three and a half hour flight from London? This is clearly a place - to paraphrase Margaret Thatcher - to do business.
Addendum: I wrote this in the famous Ukraina Hotel - one of the so-called 'Seven Sisters' gargantuan wedding cake structures in Moscow instituted by Stalin and which sits on the dramatic bend in the Moskva River.
There's an enormous 1:75 model of Moscow - or 'Capital of the USSR' as the audio guide tells me - that must be 20 feet across.
The USSR might be no more, but Russia's resurgence is everywhere to see.
Belgian Ministry of Truth
28 Feb 2013 17:18
Day three of my Brussels visit and I was summoned by Belgian union, ABVV, the largest of Ford of Europe's Genk labour bodies, for an interview to discuss the latest plant update.
Ford plans to close its Genk plant with the loss of around 4,300 immediate jobs, but some research suggests this figure could soar to more than 11,000 once the supply chain impact is taken into account.
I was told by ABVV provincial union leader, Rohnny Champagne, to make my way to the exit of Brussels South station, that cavernous building where the Eurostar decants passengers from London and on leaving, I saw Rohnny waving at me from the enormous Ministry of Labour building where the Ford talks are taking place.
The Ministry of Labour is as huge as its Orwellian name suggests - I couldn't get Ministry of Truth out of my head - and that in a city whose small size nonetheless contains myriad vast superstructures - and this was no exception.
Talks are at a crucial stage with the unions - three of them - asking for significantly improved redundancy terms from Ford - with both parties now undergoing government arbitration in a bid to thrash out a deal for the thousands of workers facing redundancy.
ABVV represents around 150,000 workers in Belgium - mostly in the metalworking business - and the Limberg region where Ford Genk is situated looks to be hit hard when the axe finally falls on the factory.
Of no little import either is the fact that Champagne's Limberg region - of which he is ABVV leader - will lose around 2,000 of its 15,000 members. When you consider union dues are around EUR15 per month per employee, that's no small consideration for the labour body, which has to make its own ends meet.
I got a taxi to Brussels South station - and the impact of plunging Sterling really hits home - it's pretty much £1 to EUR1 now - which suddenly makes Brussels - and Europe - a lot pricier than it has been.
The taxi drove down what seems to be on of several gigantic motorways that carve straight through the city - a bizarre sight that makes crossing the road challenging although the law-abiding Belgians wait stoically until the green man appears.
Brussels is such a hotch-potch of architecture - encompassing just about every style going - that it's impossible to pigeon-hole as having a single, overriding feel to it.
Just as the hundreds of nations gathered here to do business with the European Commission - its buildings too reflect a dozen wildly different impressions. If there is perhaps one theme among the gargantuan edifices, it is art deco, which rears its head in some of the most surprising places.
Just a snapshot of how international this place is through football. I wanted to watch the tasty Bayern Munich v Dortmund German Cup - or DFB Pokel or 'Pot' as they call it.
In the place I found that was showing the German game, they also had PSG v Olympic Marseille and Middlesbrough v Chelsea, all with their own contingents of vocal supporters.
I'm at Brussels Airport now, waiting for the flight home and am reflecting on what an extraordinary place Brussels is. Love it or loathe it, the world beats a path to its door because if you want any influence, you absolutely have to be here.
CLEPA draws big hitters
27 Feb 2013 16:58
To Brussels where the European automotive suppliers association - CLEPA - held its Annual Reception last night in the grand Concert Noble building a stone's throw from where I'm staying.
This is an event that attracts some serious big hitters - not the least of whom were not one but two European Union Commissioners in the shape of Trade and Climate Change and whose presence indicates the clout that CLEPA wields in the Belgian capital.
I interviewed CLEPA CEO, Jean-Marc Gales, as well as French supplier body, FIEV, president, Claude Cham. As a former Dunlop staffer, he had some interesting views on the somewhat trenchant opinions expressed by Titan CEO, Maurice Taylor last week, on the efficiency or otherwise of the French workforce.
There must have been good few hundred people at the event and as a networking opportunity, it's hard to beat, especially as CLEPA arranges the evening not as a formal dinner, but as a stand-up buffet, allowing everyone to mingle freely.
Afterwards, I managed to catch the end of the Barcelona-Real Madrid Copa del Rey game, which ended in a surprisingly comfortable win for Jose Mourinho's team and which was watched by a huge number of people in the establishment I found.
Asking directions to it was an interesting experience and indeed getting around what is currently a freezing and grey Brussels presents something of a linguistic challenge. If you can muster up a bit of French, that generally does the trick, but in almost all cases, the people I asked turned out not to be Belgian at all.
The polyglot nature of the city means almost everyone seems to be connected either with the European Commission itself or is based there because so many EC institutions are to be found in Brussels.
One lady sent me completely the wrong way and on seeing me trudge back, instead of whipping out an A to Z as I might in the UK, she flourished her iPAd and pointed me in the right direction. Such is progress I suppose.
I'm writing this now in the foyer of the IndustriALL pan-European trade union organisation, who I'm seeing shortly before heading off to ACEA to chew the fat on the state of the Continent's automotive market with its secretary general, Ivan Hodac.
I've just spoken to the ABVV trade union, who are in the middle of delicate negotiations with Ford of Europe surrounding its plans to shut the Genk plant with thousands of redundancies and have arranged to see them tomorrow in a break in their talks before heading back home via Manchester.
Just as an aside, I had my first look at the new Golf yesterday on display in the arrivals hall at Brussels Airport. As a driver of a somewhat ancient Golf myself, I was intrigued to see what VW had done with the new model and it looked very smart.
And talking of airports - Brussels has a huge number of - very good - travelators to whisk passengers around and given its vast distance you need them.
So why do some people get on the things and then grind to a halt? Bizarre.
Rotherham steels itself to be new New York
18 Feb 2013 17:05
Twenty-three years ago was the last time I was in the northern England city of Sheffield to cover the World Student Games as a local reporter - and I'm here again near Rotherham as Tata Steel and Productiv launched their supply chain initiative today (18 February) at the Brinsworth plant.
Sheffield is the UK's self-styled 'City of Steel' but for those of a certain vintage, it also gloried for a while under the 'Republic of South Yorkshire' moniker as it enjoyed a reputation for somewhat leftish politics and radical thinking that saw heavyweight British politician, David Blunkett, achieve national prominence.
British Steel's no more but Tata's stewardship of its vast sites in Sheffield and Rotherham, has seen it collaborate with consultants Productiv, several suppliers, including Torotrak and Flybrid, as well as the UK government in the form of Secretary of State, Vince Cable and his taxpayers' chequebook, to launch today's The Proving Factory supply chain initiative at the Brinsworth site.
Various media and representatives from the six suppliers involved - including Torotrak CEO Jeremy Deering - assembled in one of Brinsworth's cavernous sheds that Tata is providing for the project - and waited for the Secretary of State to arrive.
Invariably with almost any political visit, the timetable slips pretty rapidly. Cable was coming from Cumbria on this Monday morning and there was a fair amount of feet stamping as Yorkshire's icy winds swept straight through the open shed.
Cable and his squadrons of PRs eventually arrived and he duly inspected the supplier troops lined up, although the feedback I had was he genuinely knows his stuff. Auto and manufacturing seem to be real interest areas for him and he certainly didn't appear to be going through the motions.
I put myself beside the BBC camera crew and fired a couple of questions off and he took the time to answer, even when I asked if the notoriously cash-strapped UK Chancellor of the Exchequer was also backing his car initiatives.
He said he was and I suppose he wouldn't exactly have said no, but I had the strong impression this administration backs the sector; it is a success story after all compared to our European friends, whose auto industry, as Cable told me, "is in trouble."
I'm now waiting for my train back to the Midlands at Sheffield station as the sun dips on a freezing Yorkshire afternoon and the entrance is dominated by a vast - steel of course - linear waterfall that has echoes of a vast pipe.
As station sculptures go, this one's pretty good and fits perfectly with the city's past and present, sitting as it does under Sheffield's hugely controversial, and endless, Park Hill housing estate.
Park Hill completely dominates the Sheffield skyline, but locals tell me they have some sort of preservation order meaning their thousands of apartments can't be knocked down.
They're a pretty brutalist presence on the hill above the city, but have found a sort of reverse Stalinist chic, as some, only some mind, have been gentrified to appeal to, well maybe a few of those Republic of South Yorkshire elite.
Talking of building structures, I came back from Tata Steel to the station past Rotherham United's brand new football ground, intriguingly named 'The New York Stadium.'
On asking why the highly unusual name for a north of England football team, it appears there used to be a foundry near the site that produced the fire hydrants for New York City, hence the title of possibly one of the most unusually named grounds in the country.
And they beat local rivals, Chesterfield, 1-0 yesterday to boot, taking the club to within one point of the automatic promotion places.
Back in Nizhny Novgorod
06 Feb 2013 22:41
Day two in Nizhny Novgorod and attendance at GAZ Group CEO, Bo Andersson's operational heads meeting at 08:00 to discuss the previous day's issues and plan the working time ahead.
No endless discussions here sat round a table - rather around 30 senior managers stood opposite Andersson whose Russian translator quick-fired back and forth as the Swedish boss listened, advised and suggested.
Andersson is completely driven by his desire to succeed - and he rewards those who triumph with him - targets, numbers, concerns, bonus payments - all were aired in a ten-minute brainstorming session that would be repeated later that day at 17:00 as those same heads came together with Bo to discuss what had and hadn't been achieved.
The GAZ chief is never anything less than direct: "Root cause is always hard to find - then you can attack the problem" - was one of his comments - to be swiftly followed up by the head of the OAO GAZ union's: "People are waiting to get their annual bonuses," giving a brief glimpse into the challenges and opportunities GAZ is undergoing.
We rapidly moved on to march across a vast part of Andersson's empire - he says he walks 5km a day touring this huge site - and I can well believe it.
Always striding ahead, the CEO is constantly asking questions, encouraging and praising his staff, who genuinely seem to respond to his enormous energy.
Bodyshop, the Bosal joint venture, the brightly-lit VW site, ditto Skoda, the upcoming Daimler hall, assembly lines, welding, training, were a blur of frenetic activity as the boss accelerated through his daily programme.
This is the second largest car plant in the world and you need a coach just to get from A to B. It has a real aura about it, bedecked with slogans such as the: "Thank you for your honest labour" adorning one exit.
Following that whirlwind tour and interviews with more senior plant management, GAZ drove us out to its snow-bound testing track about 30 clicks from Nizhny and where we got an off-road ride in its Tiger armoured vehicle - a bit like frozen wadi-bashing.
Back to Nizhny and a final dinner with Bo tonight at which one of his staff said they'd been to see Paul McCartney in concert in Moscow.
I'm no Beatles fan - which I realise is heretical in some eyes - but he did apparently play - to popular acclaim by all accounts - "Back in the USSR."
That's the one Beatles tune I do actually like and it must have seemed pretty powerful, given his audience, replete with memories that are still pretty fresh for so many Russians.
Tycoon on the phone
05 Feb 2013 14:59
Nizhny Novgorod comes to life early, so it was a crack of sparrows start this morning to visit the Gorky Automobil Zavod or GAZ Group plant.
We arrived to find the site in full anticipation of today's razzmatazz launch of GAZ's Chevrolet Aveo, with CEO Bo Andersson somewhat unexpectedly bounding onto a stage to the theme tune of American TV series, Dallas.
GM Russia president, Jim Bovenzi, also spoke as did the Governor of the Nizhny Novgorod region, Valezy Shantsev, following which, us English-speaking press were taken to a separate room for an interview with GAZ parent company, Russian Machines' CEO, Siegfried Wolf.
I also had my first conversation with a Russian tycoon - GAZ investor Oleg Derispaska - who came booming down the line to us from Moscow and had some interesting comments on whether or not he would consider investing in European automotive companies - as Russian Railways has just done in France with PSA and Gefco. Short answer is, he probably wouldn't for the time being.
Walking to GAZ's motor museum on the city's incredibly icy streets will see me don a pair of more robust shoes tomorrow, although the Russians seem to glide about with no problem, biting wind and some slippery sidewalks are dealt with in some ease by these hardy residents.
There was a huge snowstorm yesterday in Moscow that delayed a lot of media until the early hours of this morning with one correspondent in the Russian capital telling me it was the worst in a year.
The GAZ museum was fascinating - from an early licenced Ford model to the Victory car built towards the end of World War II - the only problem being hardly anyone was able to buy it - or even drive on decent roads.
No such trivialities fazed the Soviet elite it appears, who had access to some fabulous GAZ limos, such as the Chaika or Seagull, to power about on presumably virtually empty streets.
There's a dinner scheduled in about 40min with GAZ CEO, Bo Andersson and after hearing his comments in Detroit recently, it will be interesting to see what his take is on industrial relations in particular.
Bo is always entertaining, so will report back tomorrow on what he had to say.
By the way, a propos of nothing, there's a somewhat bizarre Scottish-themed bar in the hotel here, replete with a huge saltire and bedecked in tartan. Unusual to say the least.
05 Feb 2013 14:40
Last flight of the night out of an almost empty Heathrow - the residents of Windsor must have loved us roaring over at 250kts at 11pm - on the Aeroflot Airbus A321 to Moscow and en route to see GAZ Group in Russia.
The time went quickly as we slipped over northern Europe and down into a frozen Moscow dawn, whose snowy landscape just reinforces how elemental a country Russia remains.
I'm with the Bell Pottinger PR company, who heroically stayed behind in the Russian capital to wait for connecting American journalists and allowed me to fly ahead for the 255 mile hop to GAZ's home town of Nizhny Novgorod.
I've only recently finished reading 'Russia,' a fantastic tome by BBC correspondent, Martin Sixsmith, who spent 20 years in Moscow and to come here so soon really brings his sparkling prose alive as this place has a resonance that is impossible to ignore.
If that's possible, it's even more wintry here out east than Moscow, with snow driving horizontally as I looked out earlier, although Russian hotels being heated to an almost super-human degree, I opened the window to let the Arctic blast take a few degrees Celsius off.
Nizhny Novgorod used to be known as 'Gorky' after the Communist writer, reputed to be one of Uncle Joe's favourites, but has now reverted to its more traditional usage.
Nowhere perhaps more than Russia is the issue of city names more powerful and evocative. There is a debate raging here about whether or not to rename Volgograd, Stalingrad and this in a country that went back to St Petersburg from the emotion-laden Leningrad.
We're due to meet the GAZ Chairman, Bo Andersson, tomorrow at his sprawling factory - dinner was scheduled for last night but travel delays meant an evening in the hotel lobby with a cheese sandwich - minus the gherkins which I extracted - who actually likes gherkins...?
This hotel has had its fair share of dignitaries including Boris Yeltsin - whose confident face beams out from a proudly-displayed picture - but the town's former closed status means relatively few foreigners have ventured here.
I you-tubed Nizhny before I came - the tourist images look a million miles from the rows of faceless tower blocks on the road in from the airport - and all to the ubiquitous soundtrack of 'Wind of Change,' by The Scorpions whose tune I now can't get out out of my head.
Writing this, I've just looked at that Scorpions video from their 1991 concert in the iconic Potsdamer Platz in Berlin and yes, some of it's cheesy and corny, but there are equally some immensely powerful images beamed into the heart of one of Europe's most history-fuelled cities.
Irish stew? Just the ticket
18 Jan 2013 08:21
Back to Cobo this afternoon for a meeting with BWI - light snow flurries are heralding the start of something even colder although I hear it's getting pretty chilly back home in the UK too.
It was industry day at the auto show and its halls were throbbing with those actually working in the business, meaning an awful lot of prodding and poking, lying under the bonnet and tape measures brandished across windscreens.
Picking the car back up from the valet service was chaotic as everybody seemed to arrive at once with some tempers appearing to fray as delegates decompressed after a week at the show.
I left them to it and retired to a diner for an egg sandwich - the bloke organising the cars looked pretty frayed too - when I picked up the car before he told me he was working to 11pm and would start at 5am the next morning - that's someone putting a shift in.
I'm waiting at the hotel now, whose key comes emblazoned with: 'If this card could talk - it would say welcome home.' Americans seem to love slogans - I passed through a suburb today which boldly described itself as: "The little town with a big heart.'
This evening Magna took me for for dinner in nearby Birmingham - where I had my American haircut at the weekend - while I have my last working day tomorrow before catching the big, white bird out of Detroit Wayne County airport back to London.
It's been an interesting week - I've met some really striking people - union leaders, supplier and OEM CEOs, PRs, state governors, other journos and barbers - while I've got to experience American drivers - and their roads.
Michigan governor, Rick Snyder, was earlier on 7 ABC and is talking about the state of the State's roads. With the weather this place gets, it's no wonder the roads take a beating, but they could really do with work to fill in the numerous pothole and patches - "enough to shake the fillings out of your teeth," says the TV station.
To fix all the roads, it's estimated each Michigan driver would have to fork out another $125 per year, so good luck, Governor, on trying to get that one through.
That dinner was at an Irish bar in Birmingham, whose stew was just what the doctor ordered, while back in Bailey's someone was being thrown high into the air, emitting a high yelp. "Cheerleader practice?" I asked. "No, rugby," she replied [proper football - ed].
Mad Dog, Raw Dog on your dial
17 Jan 2013 06:51
Detroit lies nearly 500 miles west of New York at the gateway to the Midwest, so GMT minus five means it doesn't really get properly light here until around 08:30.
The upshot of that darkness is an hour or so extra of watery light than I'm used to back in Blighty at the end of the working day, although the plunging Detroit mercury means you really don't want to be hanging about outside too much.
Driving into Detroit today was a stop-start affair as traffic concertinered - have I made that word up? - almost the whole way while I managed to weasel into the multi-storey by the RenCen through sheer luck as two spots suddenly became available despite a 'full' sign.
Right next to the RenCen is the turning to the Canada bridge - Detroit is to the north of Canada - and I narrowly avoided driving down it - as I wasn't carrying my passport it would have made for an interesting chat with immigration.
The Canadian Automotive Parts Manufacturers' Association (APMA) president, Steve Rodgers, told me there had been quite a fight for a second bridge from Detroit to Windsor, with the issue cropping up as a spoof item on Jon Stewart's Daily Show last week, even though it appears Canada is footing most of the bill.
It's the second day of Automotive News' World Congress and I took the chance to stop by the City of Sunderland's stand - motto: 'Make it Sunderland' - whose roaring success with Nissan and around 20 suppliers based in the area is a template for the current healthy state of the UK auto industry.
Contrast that with the stark news coming out of Nissan's Alliance partner, Renault, that around 7,500 jobs may need to be culled at home as France lurches into a desperate round of rationalisation to drive competivity and it illustrates the UK's relative robustness.
I tried to find those City of Sunderland folks this evening - the three of them supporters of the town's football club - to share the good news that - against all odds - my team Southampton had come back from two nil down to draw with Chelsea - the Champions of Europe. As the BBC text slowly refreshed, I nearly leapt out of my seat in the media room when we equalised.
The RenCen is taking a more relaxed view to the flu epidemic currently sweeping America. Not a gel in sight, in stark contrast to the Cobo that had people primed with hand sanitisers at the entrance, while even the media centre had several hygienic vials on display although frankly with around 1,000 journos in the room at any one time, it would have taken heroic quantities of gel, alcohol-based or not, to disinfect the masses.
I retrieved the Expedition - a slightly tense experience standing late at night on the top floor of a downtown Detroit multi-storey - and drove back to Troy past giant US flag after flag - this country does patriotism in bucketfuls.
The 20-mile or so journey is always enlivened by flicking through US radio stations. A few always seem to crop up - namely basketball - just a blur of words - country and western - not my cup of tea - and 'Doctor.'
My favourite was probably 'Blue Collar' - a station not for the faint-hearted - while a flick on the seek button saw 'Raw Dog' and 'Mad Dog' - constantly reappear - both of which I have no idea what they're talking about.