2009 photo of Packard plant in Detroit by Albert Duce Some rights reserved

Good for GM is good for Detroit: Separating wheat from chaff

Jan. 22, 2014
What's good for General Motors is good for the country, as they say. In this case, it was essential for survival that GM separated the wheat from the chaff — in the 2009 OldCo-NewCo restructuring — which kept moneymaking brands and divested stinker products losing money. Now, the people of Detroit could do the same thing for their city.
Recently, foodie journalist Anthony Bourdain hosted a good TV show on Detroit for his newish series, Parts Unknown.  Try to watch it if you missed it. Much of the episode depicts searing scenes of ferocious strength of spirit amidst decay while Bourdain narrates with his trademark poetic voiceover:

Detroit … is where nearly everything American came from  … and the things the whole world wanted were made here. The heart, the soul, the beat of an industrial and cultural superpower. A magnet for everyone with a dream of a better future. American dream, you came here.

... There’s no question that Detroit will come back in one form or another. A city this magnificent and this storied, this American, cannot and will not ever disappear into the weeds. Some will live in a smaller, tighter, hipper new Detroit. But who will that be? Will it be the people who stuck it out here, who fought block by block to keep their city from burning? [Editor's note: Bourdain means "burning" literally here, as arson is a big problem in the city.] Who struggled to defend their homes, and keep up appearances as all around them their neighborhoods emptied? What will Detroit look like in 20 or 50 years?  That's not just a Detroit question — that's an America question.”

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Changes in the automotive industry brought Detroit (and us) here.  Now, Machine Design has covered automotive technologies for more than 100 years but how the industry shapes the Midwest's socioeconomic evolution is usually not our main editorial focus. Consider recent photo coverage of the 2014 Detroit Auto Show by my esteemed colleague, Steve MrazOr check out our Automotive Page for features explaining the technologies used in this market. In fact, next month Mraz will followup with a technical article by detailing the concept cars from the Detroit Auto Show. In it, he’ll review the latest concept cars from major automakers, including electric vehicles and hybrids, plus delve into the engineering challenges facing EV and hybrid car builders and how they're overcoming these design hurdles.

That said, we occasionally touch on the relationship between the automotive industry, politics, and the U.S. economy. Check out the Related Articles above for a few insights.

General Motors, as much as it still represents some of the spirit of Detroit, has repaid $39 billion of the $50 or so billion worth of bailout money to the U.S. government ... and the Center for Automotive Research says that the bailout preserved more than a million jobs and $40 billion in tax collected. Now, GM is even looking to expand already solid sales in Asia. Plus the company has a female electrical engineer, Mary Barra, at the helm as CEO. Barra is also a General Motors Institute (Kettering University) graduate and Detroit native.

Packard plant in Detroit by Albert Duce. Some rights reserved.

Even though GM is like any large, modern company — decidedly international — for some reason, I take comfort in knowing that its new leader is a local Detroiter, born and raised.

Perhaps it's because what's good for General Motors is good for the country ... wink, wink ... or at least Detroit the City. In this case, it was good — in fact, essential for survival — that GM separate the wheat from the chaff in the 2009 OldCo-and-NewCo restructuring that kept moneymaking brands and divested products losing money.

Now some think Detroit should follow suit with a Detroit Future City plan to demolish, greenify, and repurpose the city's pieces-parts in a determined effort to rise again. In short, in 2010 a committee consisting of business, nonprofit, government, and philanthropic organizations founded Detroit Works Project to reimagine a "better future for one of the world’s most important and storied cities." According to the group's website, team members and affiliates used information from hundreds of meetings, 30,000 conversations, 70,000 survey responses, and countless hours spent dissecting and examining critical data to devise their surprisingly detailed plan for various sections of the city.

Now – after hundreds of meetings, 30,000 conversations, connecting with people over 163,000 times, over 70,000 survey responses and comments from participants, and countless hours spent dissecting and examining critical data about our city – we are proud to present Detroit Future City.

- See more at: http://detroitworksproject.com/the-framework/?ref=dfc#sthash.YEPlcfD7.dpuf

In 2010 an ambitious effort to reimagine a better future for one of the world’s most important and storied cities was launched.

Now – after hundreds of meetings, 30,000 conversations, connecting with people over 163,000 times, over 70,000 survey responses and comments from participants, and countless hours spent dissecting and examining critical data about our city – we are proud to present Detroit Future City.

- See more at: http://detroitworksproject.com/the-framework/?ref=dfc#sthash.YEPlcfD7.dpuf

Of course, it's not going to be like it used to be. Nothing ever is. But in your efforts to reshape your community, this Rust-Belt Believer wishes you Godspeed, Detroiters.

About the Author

Elisabeth Eitel Blog

Elisabeth is Senior Editor of Machine Design magazine. She has a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Fenn College at Cleveland State University. Over the last decade, Elisabeth has worked as a technical writer — most recently as Chief Editor of Motion System Design magazine.

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