Auto Industry Recovery Becomes a Five Year Plan

By | Editorials

U.S. sales to dive 20% in 2020; recovery years away, Alix says.


By Martha Hindes
Senior Editor
Michigan Bureau
The Auto Channel

The Coronavirus might be a non-issue by 2025, but the impact it has had on the automotive industry is expected to continue to be felt at least that long.

According to the global management consulting firm AlixPartners, the auto industry could be in a “desert of profits” scenario as the long term impact plays out.

1967 Detroit Riots destroyed store

1967 Riot’s Economic Losses Were ‘Incalculable’

By | Editorials

I was in Boston on Sunday, July 23, 1967 attending an uncle’s funeral when I learned that a riot had broken out in Detroit.

I joined the Detroit Free Press as business editor two years earlier. That’s normally not a beat that gets close to the melee, but I knew it could have a huge impact not only on Detroit’s citizens but also on the city’s and region’s business and industrial base. I was quite young, but still clearly remembered the disastrous 1943 Detroit riot.

On Monday I phoned my staff and they went to work immediately, but did not venture into harm’s way. Just driving to work could be dicey as gunfire and flames engulfed several neighborhoods, including 12th Street on Detroit’s near west side where the disturbance began during a raid on a blind pig frequented by blacks.

1967 Detroit Riots destroyed storeAnxious to get back, I departed early Monday morning and drove nonstop 700 miles to Detroit. It took 18 hours because there were fewer Interstates back then (it now takes 12 ½ hours). As I neared the southern suburbs, I skirted the city’s west side and took the Southfield Freeway north.

It was around 2 a.m. Tuesday. I was unaware that there was a curfew in Detroit. No other cars were in sight, and I could see the red glow of fire in the sky toward the east. Suddenly a Detroit Police cruiser hit his lights and siren, pulled me over, and asked what the hell I was doing out there in the middle of the night. I showed him my Detroit police press credential and said I was returning from Boston to cover the riot. “OK, I’ll follow you until you get to safe territory,” he said, “but go home and stay there.”

After only a few hours’ sleep, I carefully drove south down the Lodge Freeway arriving at the Free Press early on Tuesday. I was immediately backgrounded by Managing Editor Frank Angelo, and then met with my staff to work out assignment details — business leaders, retailers, automotive executives, bankers, and others.

Assistant Business Editor Erv Maus had done an excellent job in my absence, but I felt we needed to see for ourselves the devastation wrought by the uprising, and to interview those still trying to save their businesses, many of which were already destroyed or bellowing smoke.

Around noon I piled three staffers into my dark blue Mercury convertible and set out north on the Lodge for a neighborhood west of the New Center that obviously had been hit hard by two-plus days of disorder. “Not much protection, Boss,” Maus observed eyeballing the white vinyl roof as he and the others warily scanned the sky above the freeway, fearful that snipers might still be in the area.

National Guardsmen, who had been ordered into Detroit by Gov. George Romney, were patrolling the streets. They were not eager to see us, but we were delighted to see them. We fanned out and interviewed business owners who, despite lingering danger, were trying to protect their properties and to haul out goods that had escaped damage. To us it looked like a losing cause; in fact, some buildings were mere skeletons.

Safely back at the newspaper, we pulled together our stories as other reporters in the City Room hunched over their typewriters feverishly writing history.

1967 Detroit Riots crisis meetingBy Wednesday, order was close to being restored as we continued to focus on the economic losses. This included scores of businesses owned by both blacks and whites, victims of widespread arson and looting.

Over the four-day riot, officials estimated that 2,500 stores were looted and/or burned with overall property damage pegged at $40 million to $45 million ($292.8 million to $329.5 million in today’s dollars).

The loss in human lives and injuries was staggering. I tried to put a dollar amount on the overall economic losses in terms of jobs, businesses and residential, business and sales taxes, but could only conclude that these were “incalculable.”

During the weeks and months following the rebellion white Detroiters fled the city in large numbers. By one account, more than 80,000 departed in 1968.

Businesses were not exempt from the flight and we tracked them closely, but many naturally departed quietly. I kept a file entitled “Exodus” to document their exits, concerned that job losses in embattled Detroit would make things even worse.

Many have speculated that the loss of automotive jobs was partly responsible for unrest in Detroit that exploded into civil disorder. That seems unlikely because the auto industry had long since decentralized production around the nation, and Hudson and Packard, both built in Detroit, had already disappeared.

Some automotive suppliers remained on for years, as did ancillary businesses such as machine shops, but ultimately many of them faded as well.

Although cars and trucks were produced in nearby cities, in 1967 only General Motors’ Clark Street assembly plant still produced Cadillacs and Chrysler still built cars at its East Jefferson plant, both within Detroit’s city limits.

1967 Detroit Riots televised addressThese operations were replaced with new factories, as GM and Chrysler commited to supporting the city. GM’s Poletown plant straddling the border  between Detroit and Hamtramck opened in 1985 and Jefferson Avenue in 1991. Both continue to make cars and SUVs in the city.

Ford hadn’t made cars in Detroit since its early days, but did, and still does, in next-door Dearborn. In 1967, Ford was still producing tractors in Highland Park where early Model Ts were built on Henry Ford’s breakthrough moving assembly line. It has been mostly vacant for decades but remains standing, providing storage for Ford artifacts and documents and is listed as a National Historic Landmark. Meanwhile, a local group currently seeks to restore the facility as an automotive heritage center.

Ford CEO, Henry Ford II, also made a huge commitment to the city, as the primary force behind construction of the Renaissance Center, which opened in 1977. Ironically, GM purchased the RenCen in 1996 and it’s now GM’s World Headquarters.

There have been many other positive developments over the years including new stadiums for baseball (the Tiger’s Comerica Park) and football (the Lions’ Ford Field), and the Little Caesars complex soon to be home of the Red Wings hockey team and Pistons basketball team.

Only in recent years, however, have the city’s overall prospects of revival brightened significantly since that infamous week in July 1967. One can only hope that this fledgling renaissance spreads to all Detroiters.

Footnote: My editorial assistant back then was a young African-American woman named Bernadette Green. She had a difficult time getting to work, but when she finally arrived during mid-week she had “exciting news.” She said you could buy almost anything at bargain prices — new appliances, TVs, clothing — spread out on the lawns of homes on her street, but certainly not hers. Apparently looters had become overnight entrepreneurs.

Peace Corps JFK

JFK Gives Birth to Peace Corps

By | Editorials

In the Pre-dawn October Darkness, JFK Gives Birth to Peace Corps.

Ann Arbor, Michigan — On Oct.14, 1960, I was a young reporter for The Detroit Times covering John F. Kennedy’s Democratic Party campaign for president at a University of Michigan rally.

JFK planned to get some sleep, but as thousands of students and town folks – one estimate put the crowd at 10,000 — wearing Kennedy campaign straw hats and chanting his name gathered outside the university’s Men’s Union, he finally appeared at 2 a.m. His speech is recorded as the birth of the Peace Corps, and a plaque still exists at the now-coeducational Union commemorating that historic moment in U.S. history.

In fact, however, he did not describe what he had in mind as a  “Peace Corps” until a Nov. 2 speech at the Cow Palace in San Francisco. But what he did say here became a rallying cry that finally led to establishment of the organization. “I think it could work… building goodwill and building peace,” he said in San Francisco.

JFK paved the way by issuing Executive Order 10924 on March 31, 1961, two months after his inauguration as the nation’s 35th president, asking Congress to pass the Peace Corps Act.  It became Public Law 87-293 on Sept.1, 1961, falling under the State Department’s purview with initial funding of $450 million.

Volunteers immediately applied to participate, and the first contingent packed their bags in early 1962. By the following year 5,000 had joined, and during the past 55 years, 225,000 have served in 141 countries.  They’ve also been prolific writers; 987 have written books about their Peace Corps experiences, as have 52 staffers.

John Coyne was among the first to embark, for Ethiopia, and taught English in Addis Ababa. In an article published in the January-February 2017 edition of American Diplomacy, Coyne traces the origin of numerous efforts akin to the Peace Corps dating back two centuries, covering both the U.S. and other nations.

Credit for introducing the first Peace Corps legislation, however, goes to Hubert Humphrey, who ran against Kennedy in the 1960 presidential primary, later served as Lyndon Johnson’s vice president, and ran unsuccessfully for president against then-Vice President Richard Nixon in 1968.

Humphrey also served two separate terms as U.S. senator from Minnesota, 1949-’64 and 1971-’78. During his first term, in 1957, he floated a Peace Corps bill, but by his own account “it did not meet with much enthusiasm.” Diplomats “quaked at the idea,” he said, “and many senators, including the liberal ones (like Humphrey) thought the idea was silly and unworkable.” JFK, a fellow Democrat who served in the Senate at that time with Humphrey, apparently was not among the skeptics.

There was little media presence of JFK’s remarks on that brisk autumn pre-dawn morning. Unlike today’s 24-hour pervasive coverage of anything and everything, most reporters thought there was no more news to be made because JFK had said he planned to retire. When he appeared he faced only a single microphone set up by WUOM-FM, the university’s radio station, not the crowded bank that routinely festoon podiums today.

My buddy, Detroit-based Newsweek reporter Hugh Wray McCann, joined me as we jostled our way up the steps of the Men’s Union. Both of us lived in Ann Arbor, 45 miles west of Detroit, which was convenient for our assignment editors. We were also Michigan alums.

Nixon attracted a modest crowd two weeks earlier during a whistle stop campaign speech at the Ann Arbor train station. On the night of JFK’s visit, however, a band of university students built a paper mache mockup of Nixon and set fire to it only a stone’s throw from the Union before JFK made his appearance.

So what did JFK actually say in that wee-hours-of-the-morning address? I had heard him speak many times during his campaign, of course, and was impressed by his youthful appearance – he was only 43 –and his staccato delivery and Boston brogue. Smiling broadly with sparkling teeth, he began:

“I want to express my thanks to you, as a graduate of the Michigan of the East, Harvard University (laughter). I come here delighted to say a few words about this campaign that is coming into the last three weeks. I think in many ways it is the most important campaign since 1933, mostly because of the problem which press upon the United States, and the opportunities which will be presented to us in the 1960s. The opportunity must be seized, through the judgment of the President, and the vigor of the executive, and the cooperation of Congress. Through these I think we can make the greatest possible difference.

(Then he got to the meat of what led to his Peace Corps initiative).

“How many of you are going to be doctors, are willing to spend days in Ghana? Technicians or engineers, how many of you are willing to work in the Foreign Service and spend your lives traveling around the world? Or your willingness to that, not merely to serve on year or two years, but on your willingness to contribute a part of your life to this country, I think will depend the answer whether a free society can compete. I think it can! And I think Americans are willing to contribute. But the effort must be far greater than we have ever made in the past. Therefore I am delighted to come to Michigan, to this university, because unless we have those resources in this school, unless you comprehend the nature of what is being asked of you, this country can’t possibly move through the next years in a period of relative strength. So I come her tonight to go to bed! But I also come here tonight to ask you to join in this effort…This university…this is the longest short speech I’ve ever made…therefore I’ll finish it! Let me say in conclusion, this University is not maintained by its alumni, or by the state, merely to help its graduates have an economic advantage in the life struggle. There is certainly a greater purpose, and I’m sure you recognize it. Therefore, I do not apologize for asking your support in this campaign. I come here tonight asking for your support for this country over the next decade. Thank you.”

Clearly this was a clarion call for Americans, particularly young students, to place duty to country above salaries that might come with their diplomas.

This was cemented when, toward the end of his inaugural speech on Jan.20 1961, JFK admonished Americans to engage in public service and ended with perhaps his most memorable quote: “And so, my fellow Americans. Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”

Back in October it was too late, of course, to file a story for that day’s Detroit Times, and I am not sure I entirely grasped the significance of the speech when I heard it; at first blush it sounded like a typical message you’d expect a candidate for the presidency might deliver in a college town populated largely by liberal-leaning students.

Within weeks, however, pundits and editorial writers took to their typewriters with a flourish to express their opinions, pro and con.

Although short on specifics, JFK had in mind an army of trained volunteers to work for a few years in underdeveloped countries to help promote peace by working in key areas such as education, farming, health care and construction projects. Basically, it amounted to community service on a global scale designed not only to promote peace but also to bolster the image of the United States. Later surveys indicated that volunteers overwhelmingly thought their service had accomplished those objectives.

It was a bold idea, but Nixon argued that the Peace Corps would merely provide a safe haven for draft dodgers, especially as the Vietnam War escalated. In fact, volunteers were not exempt from Selective Service. U.S. enemies viewed it as a potential spy agency backed by the Central Intelligence Agency. The CIA’s policy, however, restricted volunteers from any clandestine involvement.

Coyne cites an early Gallup poll indicating strong acceptance of the Peace Corps, with 71 percent supporting and 66 percent saying they wanted their “sons” to sign up. Females were not included in the early thinking, but they were in the final Peace Corps bill and today comprise 62 percent of the current 7,213 volunteers.

Parents and others worried about the safety of the volunteers, who often have worked in unstable countries, some led by dictators and rival militias and tribes. And to be sure, there were scandals.  Time, in a 50-year review of the Peace Corps in 2011, cited an ABC News 20/20 investigation that claimed 1,000 female volunteers had been raped or sexually assaulted and 23 (of both sexes) were murdered over its first half-century.  That’s certainly not a pretty picture but not bad enough to write off the movement. Startled by the 20/20 report, then-Peace Corps Director Aaron Williams promised major reforms.

In fact, at first JFK wasn’t sure the Peace Corps would be successful. That’s one reason he reportedly chose his brother-in-law, Sargent Shriver, to be its first director; he could fire Shriver without much collateral damage in case things didn’t work out. By 1963 Shiver had travelled 350,000 miles and visited 35 countries. He stayed on until 1966.

Over the years, but especially in the early going, the Peace Corps attracted a widely diverse group of individuals, young and old, and from a variety of backgrounds. Among the well known:

  • JFK’s grand-nephew, Joseph P. Kennedy III of Boston, who was elected to the House of Representatives in 2012, and served in the Dominican Republic 2004-’06.
  • Lillian Carter, the future president’s mother, India 1966-’68.
  • Bob Taft, great-grandson of President William Howard Taft and Ohio governor from 1999-2007, Tanzania 1963-’65.
  • Christopher Dodd, Democratic senator from Connecticut, 1981-2011, Dominican Republic 1966-’68.
  • Chris Matthews, MSNBC commentator, Swaziland 1968-’70.
  • Reed Hastings, co-founder and CEO of Netflix, Swaziland 1983-’85.
  • Donna Shalala, U.S. secretary of Health and Human Services, 1993-2001, Iran 1962-’64.
  • Paul Tsongas, former U.S. senator from Massachusetts who ran  for president in 1992, Ethiopia 1962-’64.

Exactly three weeks after JFK’s now-famous speech I received a phone call, also at 2 a.m., informing me my services  were no longer required at the Detroit Times. There was no further explanation, leaving me to agitate over what I may have done to merit this summary execution. At 4 a.m., my brother-in-law Frank Tomlinson, then a newsman on Detroit’s powerful WJR-AM, phoned and asked if I had heard the news. What news? “The Times has been sold to The Detroit News,” our arch competitor, he said.

So I left Ann Arbor and I went on to enjoy a long career in journalism that included The Toledo Blade, The Wall Street Journal, The Detroit Free Press and Wards Auto World, an international business newsmagazine.

Although I’ve covered a broad range of stories, including Detroit’s infamous July1967 riot, JFK’s assassination on Friday Nov.22, 1963, stands out. By that time I was a staff reporter for The Wall Street Journal in Los Angeles.

All of WSJs bureaus worked over that weekend gathering reaction to this sad, horrific event. In LA we contacted movie stars, who were mostly pro-Kennedy liberals, as well as California’s cadre of notorious right-wingers. The extremely far right John Birch Society, which remarkably once called President Dwight Eisenhower a Communist, had an office in the posh LA eastern suburb of San Marino near Pasadena. I phoned and asked the local JBS leader, a close associate of founder Robert Welch, his thoughts on the assassination. He had a short, terse reply: “The chickens have come home to roost.” The clear implication: JFK, who the Society also deemed either a commie or a sympathizer, had it coming.

By some counts up to 40,000 books have been written about John F. Kennedy and his short, but impact-filled, life as commander-in-chief of the world’s most powerful nation. In that respect, perhaps the Peace Corp should be considered only a lengthy footnote.

But don’t tell that to the legions of Peace Corps volunteers who, over the 57 years since his call to service, have traveled to all corners of the earth, often under extremely trying and dangerous circumstances, to help the less fortunate, spread the message of peace and democracy, and to bolster the reputation of the U.S.A.

The Therapeutic Value of a Back-Road Drive

By | Editorials

Road therapy really is a thing.

Not many people get a regular opportunity for this stress-reducing, healthy method of travel, as do I. So, in case you want to take, or make, the opportunity, I’ll share with you the concept of “shunpiking” as therapy; no drugs, no sitting cross-legged on the floor, no facing off with a counselor. The drive, done properly, will get you in touch with a part of yourself you don’t access often enough.

My good fortune is that much of my professional life is in Detroit and its burbs. I live 75 miles west and a little north of the city, with wetlands, fields, forests and a few small towns between. Two or three times a week I need to be in the city for a meeting, press event or some other activity. While that drive normally takes barely more than an hour without traffic slowdowns I try to allot two hours, or maybe more, for the trip one way, the other, or both, so I can “shunpike” it as much as possible.


To shunpike is to shun the turnpike: that is, take back roads instead of the highway, in the spirit of Charles Kuralt, Jack Kerouac and William Least-Heat Moon. I’ve found, since discovering the word, that most enthusiastic motorists use and value this technique but most didn’t know there is a word for it, nor do they make enough time for it. You should, I confidently recommend.

We want no predetermined route and we use a map as little as possible. It helps if you know the area, but not necessary. It also helps if you have a decent sense of direction, but that’s not necessary if your vehicle just has a compass, as do most these days.

Coming out of the city I head for the edge of town to escape the urban environment as soon as possible. Outbound, I know my destination is about 60 miles west and a little bit north so I just drive in those directions taking whatever road strikes my fancy. I might end up on a road that turns to dirt, then must decide to backtrack to try another, or just keep on going. If the dirt road is wet, just know that a dirty car can be a badge of honor to a real shunpiker.  Dozens and dozens of road combinations are before me

And, by the way – as soon as you get to the edge of town – turn off the radio! You’ll be amazed at the feeling of stress release and sense of freedom you’ll feel.  You’ll soon find yourself enjoying the flora, fauna, geography, geology, vehicle dynamics, and a rhythm of the road. Take a few deep breaths and either allow your brain to go where it wants, like putting it in neutral. Like a long run (for those of us still up to it), you’ll find yourself solving problems, making plans and gaining inspirations out of the blue.

It will be a serenity you’ve forgotten possible, or perhaps you’ve never known while rediscovering the sights, sounds, smells and ambiance of the countryside.

That’s road therapy.

Now, if you don’t have the opportunities I have, you’ll want to make your own. Take a half day, or more if you can, pick a place at least a hundred miles away with rural space in between. A sports car, convertible, or something else special, will likely enhance the experience for those who really like the process of driving. For nature-lovers, those who appreciate the rural environment or others, the vehicle may matter less.

The point is to enjoy your drive.

For another story from the back roads, this time with a wild vehicle, take a look at this: https://www.theautochannel.com/news/2018/08/10/620084-slingshot-by-polaris-different-kind-road-therapy-review-by-steve.html. (Please forgive all the ads. The story appears on a commercial site.)

International Wheel Awards

By | Projects

A Project of the Individual Communicators Network

The International Wheel Awards was a prestigious competition for automotive journalists dating from the 1980s managed and presented by the Detroit Press Club Foundation, the charitable arm of the Detroit Press Club. After the DPC ceased to exist in the 1990s the Foundation stood on its own and continued the tradition of presenting these awards for a few years with support from the automotive OEMs, tier-one suppliers and other patrons. The infamous annual Steakout (a raucous, off-the-record comedy show that roasted journalists, business people and politicians) was, in later years, used to generate the funds needed. The original version of the International Wheel Awards finally went away in about 1998.

After the Wheel Awards had been dormant for a half dozen years the Individual Communicators Network, a consortium of business communications professionals in private practice, was asked to bring the Wheel Awards back in order to honor excellence in automotive journalism, as had the original awards. Some of the ICN members had been involved with the Detroit Press Club, its Foundation, the Steakout and the Wheel Awards in years past. With the support of Ed Lapham, executive editor of Automotive News and one of the DPCF’s remaining board members, the ICN brought back the awards program in 2004.

It turned out that the Wheel Awards were still well known and respected throughout the automotive media community, and the new version was a great success, lasting five years under ICN management. As the auto industry began struggling again during the Great Recession, the Wheel Awards went away again for lack of funding, and now await another resurrection.

The ICN still gets inquiries from journalists, publishers and supporters asking when the awards will be back. Our intent at the ICN has been to bring them back whenever we are able to get enough funding to support them at an appropriate level. We believe the awards will still have the luster of prestige within the industry that it enjoyed during its first two lives, though it would have to be radically updated to reflect the monumental changes in the field.

Sponsoring the revival of the International Wheel Awards would be an opportunity for a company to honor the importance of automotive journalism, its contribution to the auto industry, and to help grow this event over upcoming years. Honoring excellence in any field always improves the quality throughout the field. We will continue to seek sponsorship from OEMs, suppliers, and others interested in supporting this mission.  

Woodward Dream Cruise 2018

By | Editorials

For those of us whose misspent youth includes aimless cruising on a Saturday night the Woodward Dream Cruise seems a bit incongruous. In our day crowds of people did not line the streets to watch us show off. We had no sponsors and hospitality tents, parking lots full of tailgaters or vendors selling t-shirts. What we had were youngsters in hot cars gathering socially, indulging lusts and reveling in the exuberance of youth.

The Woodward Dream Cruise was born in 1995 from an effort to fund a local ball field by a few people in Ferndale, north of Detroit at Woodward and 9-Mile Road. With modest expectations they were shocked when a quarter million people took part that first year. Within a few years, the Woodward Dream Cruise had become the largest one-day car event in the world. It seems that a pent-up lust for cool cars and cruising still existed within those 50s, 60s and 70s youngsters who were now in their golden years.

Until now your trusty reporter had not experienced the official Saturday evening Dream Cruise. The whole event has expanded into a week-long wallow in automobile culture and I had always chosen to attend at less congested times earlier in the week. Every evening Woodward Avenue, particularly from Ferndale to Birmingham, becomes a parade of special cars, and other things vehicular, with plenty of spectators and events along the roadside. I learned that Saturday night is the same, only more so.

Our friends at Ford hosted a media center with viewing towers and a large public display of Mustang history, featuring the first Mustang ever built, the 10 millionth Mustang, the original mule from the Bullitt movie and a screen showing that epic Steve McQueen film. From a front-row seat on the Ford patio, we watched stop-and-go traffic northbound on Woodward near 12-Mile Road with cool cars mixed in with white-bread traffic. These civilians, including gawkers, constitute around 80% of traffic with the rest being an eclectic mix of special vehicles. Probably half of the special cars were modern muscle cars like Corvettes, Mustangs, mixed Dodge Hemis and the like. Beyond those were classic hot rods, rat rods, pickups, miniature cars, motorcycles . . . you name it.

Some of my favorites were: the red ’66 Mustang from the LeMay Museum driven in The Drive Home cross country winter rally; a fire-breathing old rusty truck with flamethrower mounted in the rear; an orange ’55 Cadillac ambulance; a pretty, cream-color ’48 Ford resto rod; Top-Hat John Jendza’s legendary ’49 Cadillac notorious original Woodward cruiser and racer of the 50s; a 4-door ’62 Valient survivor with “For Sale” sign in the window; and a white ’65 Fury convertible with 3 lovely young ladies sitting on the boot.

The Dream Cruise is nothing like cruising in the old days, though many of the cruisers and a few of the cars were around back then. One big difference is that, now the local cops shut it all down at an arbitrary time of the evening. Like the past, though, the cops can have only a fleeting influence, as the partying continues.

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