There's every reason to have hope for the auto industry in 2013 if this year's Detroit Auto Show is any indication. While no one theme shone through, the general atmosphere was one of getting back to business as usual--usual, that is, before the economic collapse that threatened to topple the industry five years ago.
Giving credibility to the notion of a comeback, the 2013 U.S. forecast for total vehicle sales is nudging the 15.3 million unit mark, the industry's highest since reaching the cliff in 2008, and an increase of nearly 50 percent from the low-water mark of 2009. Lending further credence is the auto sector's emergence as America's retail sales leader, topping all other industries by at least two percent on growth of almost eight percent in 2012.
There were even examples of excess in evidence in the new-model unveilings at and around the 2013 Detroit Auto Show, with classics like an on-stage rock act at the off-site, invite-only debut of the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray, the single breakout model of the show.
In years past, high-profile acts would grace stages and shake hands with CEOs, but in the past five years of right-sizing and rationalizing, the practice has fallen into disuse, an acknowledgement of the need for fiscal responsibility--or at least the appearance of it.
More mainstream brands held traditional press conferences and unveiled new products that showed the way forward for design, efficiency, and performance for their brands. Unlike recent years, however, there was far less emphasis on bringing products to market for the express purpose of gas mileage efforts.
Instead, improvements in fuel economy and the technologies that enable those improvements were integrated into otherwise mass-market vehicles, from the Nissan Resonance concept previewing the next Murano to the Cadillac ELR, which builds on the Chevrolet Volt's technological foundation to yield an elegantly styled luxury coupe with serious green credibility.
Electrification, as seen in the ELR and also in the new 2014 Infiniti Q50 Hybrid and even the Acura NSX concept, was also much more integrated and mainstream, rather than being the standalone feature to justify the construction of cars with few other redeeming traits. Electrification, or at least partial electrification, is reaching maturity, it seems.
The luxury market continues to drive progress, the segment seeing increasing sales throughout the 2012 calendar year. New models and concepts in Detroit point toward a continuation of luxury's role in bringing the industry back to where it once stood.
Taken separately, none of these developments define the atmosphere of the first important auto show of 2013, but together, they speak of an industry that is repaired and recovering, ready to forge forward in the new economy and the new environmentally-aware consumer market.
(c) 2013, High Gear Media.