Ask yourself the following question: what would you have said a year ago if you’d learned that in 2010, at the Detroit Motor Show, the latest Ferraris and Maseratis would be exhibited as part of a vast Chrysler group exhibit, with Ram trucks on one side, Jeep off-roaders on the other, and a new Lancia Delta – familiar except for its new Chrysler badge and grille – would be parked just yards away on the same piece of carpet?
Obviously, you wouldn’t have believed it. Yet this week in the Motor City it happened. Such have been the monumental changes in the car industry this past 18 months that practically anything seems possible.
Who got it right and wrong?
Fiat now controls Chrysler, but for US consumption it has to look the other way around, so the Fiat Group is using all its assets – including the great marques of Modena and Maranello – to give legs to the extraordinary new deal. It made one of the most remarkable motor industry sights of modern times, but we’d better get used to it. Mercurial Fiat chief Sergio Marchionne clearly intends to spare no resource to make his dubious enterprise work (where mighty Daimler failed) though he did seem err badly on the first day of the show by hob-nobbing too long with visiting US politicians and failing to turn up at a scheduled call for local press and TV, leaving slighted hacks spitting chips. He now has fence-mending to do.
Ford, by heavy contrast, got it exactly right. They used the hugely popular architect of their strengthening sales and fiscal recovery, Alan Mulally, to unveil the undoubted star of the show, a very pretty and very plausible third generation Focus, and then announced that both the regular (albeit very frugal) versions and a new battery-powered model would be manufactured right there in Michigan from late 2010 – because cost-cutting efficiencies and a new deal with the United Auto Workers union have made the manufacture of cheaper cars viable in the US again.