Blog: Simon WarburtonSwish Cobo kicks off Detroit show

Simon Warburton | 14 January 2014

Renovated Cobo adds to upbeat mood in Detroit

Renovated Cobo adds to upbeat mood in Detroit

My first Society of Automotive Analysts (SAA) Outlook Conference yesterday (12 January) afternoon in the renovated Cobo Center in downtown Detroit and a pretty impressive 150 delegates made the sessions lively and entertaining.

As well as Toyota North America CEO, Jim Lentz, giving a keynote SAA speech, there were some seriously clever people from Barclays, Edmunds and the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, who collectively painted a rosy, upbeat view of a US market that could even reach 16.4m units this year, quite some recovery from the dark days of 2009 when the ghostly spectre of the downturn hung over the show.

I talked to SAA president, Anthony Pratt, who is also senior manager in the product planning group for Chrysler, as well as Denso and a former Plastic Omnium manager, who regaled me with tales of an American being parachuted into a French company in Paris.

I also met my colleagues from the UK, who'd had a 'Planes, Trains & Automobiles' marathon trip across the pond and we had a bite to eat at a nearby restaurant - after finally coaxing the GPS that is into some sort of life to recognise the zip code.

Today was the start of the show proper, with German automotive association, VDA, kicking proceedings off in a distinctly upbeat manner and I chatted to its ebullient president - who wouldn't be with the numbers coming out of his country - about the contentious refrigerant issue between Mercedes-Benz and France as well as the state of play with the crucial US-Europe free trade agreement talks.

I was filing earlier in the vast Michelin media centre - an aircraft hangar-sized room containing many hundreds of scribes but suddenly realised there was no signal on my phone.

It's just a sign of how wedded we've become to the things I suppose but the sheer volume of journalists here is testament to the popularity of this show - and the network can't keep up with demand meaning I was grateful to use the landlines provided to set up another interview.

I've went for lunch with the equally upbeat TRW -the good news for OEMs is clearly filtering through to suppliers - at the nearby London Chop House which is doing some great business from the Cobo to judge by its massed ranks of diners.

A quick hop next door to see the ongoing campaign with the Nissan workers of Mississippi yielded some interesting developments, while talking of unions, there was a demonstration outside the Cobo protesting about the parlous start of Detroit's public finances.

I went to the UAW-organised Nissan union event last year and its 2014 equivalent also contained a gathering of religious and civil rights leaders - this issue comes replete with echoes of a bygone era in Mississippi, with both sides seemingly engaged in attritional trench warfare. There just doesn't seem to be any progress at all in this one.

Talking to a Minister involved in the campaign afterwards, he told me he helped organise the visit of Nelson Mandela to Detroit following his release from prison in 1990. Apparently the late South African President took a keen interest in organised labour in America and was keen to visit 'Motor Town' as he labelled it as part of an American tour.

I caught a glimpse of the Detroit river outside the Cobo after the VDA press conference and although the temperature has risen since I arrived, there are still vast sheets of ice floating downstream, it is January after all.

This evening saw the international media reception hosted by the Automotive Press Association and a very convivial affair it was too. I got chatting to the person responsible for Ford's press fleet - the size of the US makes that a daunting prospect - if you're in Utah and want a certain spec model that's only available in New York the logistics of that are substantial.

Tomorrow morning, ZF Friedrichshafen, Denso and Michelin have press conferences and I'm slotted in for a one to one with the French tyremaker's North America president.

After that, it's a trot down the road to the RenCen for the Automotive News World Congress, always a lively debate and this year's line-up looks very good value for money.

Addendum: Fascinating to watch what looked like a live broadcast with Alan Mulally and a TV crew. The anchor was growing increasingly frantic as the seconds ticked by to presumably an on-air slot and I heard him say 'I'm going to lose my guest' unless whatever issue it was got sorted. It did, with a fraction of time to spare.


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