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PANIC IN DETROIT

This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!

Published on Sun, Jan 14, 2007

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

Changfeng Liebao CS6 - Five-passenger, body-on-frame AWD SUV. Its 2.5-liter diesel engine produces 140 hp and 250 lb-feet of torque.

PANIC IN DETROIT Words by Christopher & Chuck Dapoz; Pictures by Mark Dapoz Storm clouds hang over Detroit, casting an ugly shadow on the 2007 North American International Auto Show. General Motors, Ford and Chrysler Group are losing sales, money and employees. Michigan's unemployment rate, at 6.9 percent, is the highest in the nation. The annual Detroit auto show always generates rosy pronouncements and a sense of optimism. This year, the mood in Motown is somber. The city's two daily newspapers, the Detroit News and Detroit Free Press, can be counted on to splash glamorous photos from the auto show across their pages along with upbeat stories. But typifying the pall over the city right now, the headline in Tuesday's Detroit News was, "China IS COMING and why Detroit should be worried." The hook of the story was the news conference held the day before by China's Changfeng Group, during one of the three media days that precedes the opening of the show to the public. Changfeng is a small auto manufacturer. Last year it built 200,000 vehicles, which is fewer than the production of a single assembly plant in the U.S. What's notable about the Changfeng display is that it's there. Appearing at a U.S. auto show is a first for a Chinese auto manufacturer. The display is modest - just five, not-ready-for-the-U.S. vehicles - and it's in the basement of Cobo Center, along with a handful of aftermarket suppliers. Most NAIAS attendees never visit the basement displays. Many Detroiters are terrified Chinese manufacturers will sell vehicles in the U.S., in turn reducing sales of the Detroit Three and taking away jobs their employees. Both blue- and white-collar workers are afraid - very afraid - about competing with low-wage workers on the other side of the world. No one should be surprised if the Changfeng vehicles are vandalized during the show. That's not a prediction, but it would be consistent with damage caused to Japanese vehicles on the roads of Detroit in the 1980s, a time when Japanese-branded vehicles were barred from the parking lots of the Detroit Three, suppliers and the United Auto Workers Union. Many autoworkers think Detroit is suffering because of global competition, and the sight of another unfamiliar auto company doing business in America makes them jittery. The somber mood in Detroit is not due to a Chinese company at NAIAS. Detroit's problems stem from a lot more than a company no one in America has ever heard of. We're hopeful GM, Ford and Chrysler Group will turn around - or at least be reborn as smaller but profitable companies. The auto industry will benefit if they become stronger because, fundamentally, competition is good for consumers, suppliers, employees and companies. Just as Coca Cola is stronger because of competition from Pepsi and vice versa, we hope competition ultimately will revive the U.S.-based automakers, bringing optimism back to Detroit.

Changfeng UU-CT3 - Two-passenger, FWD, unibody, 1.4L open-bed SUT. To go to LA Car's report on the NAIAS, click here.

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