It was an important piece of automotive history, which makes it all the more surprising that more people weren't there to witness it. GM's 10am press conference, traditionally the opener to the Detriot Show's bizarre train of Sunday morning reveals, still had seats to spare at 9.45am, the first time that's happened in 20 years. As I sat there, four rows from the front, waiting for president and CEO Rick Wagoner to start talking, I passed the time wondering what kind of first line the great man's speechwriter had penned for him. "Hello everyone, here we are again..." would definitely not do.
As for Wagoner himself, I already knew he was in good heart. It's amazing, as others get older, greyer and more tired, that the GM boss seems ageless, no older than when he memorably visited Autocar's offices for breakfast six or seven years ago, when times were frenetically busy, but much better.
There, this morning, was Wagoner, free of make-up and looking just like an ordinary bloke, talking 19 to the dozen to TV cameras about the expectation of tougher times, the need for new ranges of economical cars, and about the demands of the legislators, his new masters.
There was a coundown: 10 minutes, 5 minutes, some rising rock music and a then a string of black and white video voxpops as GM people voiced their pride in their company's standards and future, and a degree of puzzlement that the rest of the world didn't seem able to see it. Then Wagoner stood to deliver the historic first line, a declaration that this day, this event, would in futue be seen as the beginning of an acceleration of GM's rapid restructuring. It was powerful, but overlaying it all was Wagoner's normality, his persona as a nice guy with huge experience and huge problems, still trying his best.
Then came a cavaldade of about 10 recent cars, led by the inevitable Chevy Volt and including the COTY-winning Opel Insignia, plus the soon-to-land Camaro, the Cruze and a few 2010 models about to hit US showrooms. Missing were the wild concepts of yesteryear, but GM showed two 'real' ones it intends to make, the Chevy Spark (really a dressed-up Suzuki Splash) and a handsome MPV concept called Orlando which is aimed for US showrooms for 2011.
But where was Bob Lutz, the hero-status product guru from the good times? Had he retired? God knows he has earned some peace. But just as people started thinking post-Bob thoughts, a last concept whispered down the lane lined with cheering, rent-a-crowd retirees and employees. It was an all-new electric Cadillac concept, based on Volt technology, called the Converj, and it looked great. Bob, famous for calling a spade a spade, admitted promptly that this was the kind of car whose styling people could love, whatever it was powered by. He seemed to be thinking, though he's far too canny to say it, that a nice V8 would have fiited the bill and the engine bay.
Then the show ended and we were all invited on stage to meet the major players. It was a different presentation, yet it was the same. I found it inspiring, but what really struck me was that GM seems on track, much as it was before the 'crisis' began. The models are the right models. The people have the required sense of urgency. The restructuing job may be big, but it's far from impossible. What the world's second biggest car-maker needs most is the support of understanding customers.