For the first time in three years, Porsche is displaying cars at the North American International Auto Show that opened this weekend in Detroit. Nissan will return next year. Saab and Suzuki may be close on their heels.
Two years ago, it was far from certain there would be a domestic auto industry in 2011, let alone a Detroit show. Yet both not only have survived, but have made a modest comeback.
Attendance at this year's show is expected to exceed last year's total, buoyed by a number of factors. There is excitement over a variety of new cars, notably the Chevrolet Volt, a plug-in electric hybrid. Overall, Detroit-designed vehicles are better and more reliable than they used to be.
Cobo Center, Detroit's aging convention facility, is cleaned up and spiffed up. Some consumers who have put off buying a new car for years seem to calculate that now is the time.
Many Michigan dignitaries, including the governor and members of Congress, traditionally slip in for a sneak peek before the show opens to the public. This year, they were joined by Ohio's new governor, John Kasich, who toured the show, met with executives of the now not-so-big Detroit 3, and conveyed the message, in the words of an aide, that “Ohio is open for business.” That was important.
Michigan's new governor, Rick Snyder, not only met with the heads of Ford, Chrysler, and General Motors, he also stopped by Toyota, Kia, and Hyundai, all import automakers with a presence in the state.
In a nod to the future, Governor Snyder also met with leaders of a number of alternative and renewable-energy companies at a private reception before he offered the traditional public remarks opening the Detroit show.
Michigan's new governor is a businessman and a realist. He knows that things look much better for the domestic auto industry than they did two years ago, for which the Obama Administration probably deserves more credit than it has gotten.
The auto industry remains a significant contributor to the economies of Michigan and Ohio. This year's Detroit show makes clear that the industry remains worth celebrating.
But no one should make the mistake of believing things will ever return to the days when it was a mass employer of unskilled labor at high wages.
Driving to the Detroit auto show this week is a great idea. So is remembering that this region's economy must be driven by a continuing need to diversify.
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