If history recalls the 2009 Los Angeles motor show at all, it will be because it marked the moment the global car industry smiled again. This was no cheesy Cheshire cat grin, or really much more than a slight creasing at the corners of the mouth, but it was there, and it was unmistakable.
At the start, this seemed hardly likely. The show didn’t so much stumble out of the blocks as fall flat on its face, on account of its keynote speaker, Fritz Henderson, being booted out of his job as boss of General Motors the day before the show, the GM board showing it has lost none of its talent for truly terrible timing.
The official reasons for Henderson’s departure – that he’d done a great job but that the pace of change needed to increase – seemed not to wash well among hard-bitten show-going hacks, and ever more lurid suggestions as to why he really went circulated until an understudy, the legendary ‘Maximum’ Bob Lutz, was drafted in to talk in Henderson’s place.
Lutz is now 77 and altogether too canny a public performer to so much as suggest what really went on; indeed, his comment that "you will see me exercising enormous skill in not answering your questions" garnered the loudest of the few laughs around the show.
But as the schedule of conferences played out, the underlying theme was clear: "It’s been terrible, but we’re still here and the worst appears to be over." Lutz said GM was now in a better position than it had been possible to imagine back in the days when Henderson took it into and out of bankruptcy. Even warmer noises were coming from directions as diverse as Porsche and Toyota.