After his annual visit to the Detroit Show, Robert Cumberford analyses the difficult situation of the United States auto industry, afflicted as it is by a profound crisis brought on by lack of sales and ideas, not to mention capable managers.

Ford and General Motors, the last two great American manufacturers still on their feet, have only two ways forward, according to Cumberford. “They can close down factories and cut their workforces, thus transforming themselves into much smaller outfits until irrelevance wipes them off the face of the earth, as happened to the once vital British car industry, which fifty years ago was second only to the United States. Unfortunately it would appear that Ford has chosen this route. Or else they can change their top management and take on top-rank executives and bring in global change, as Carlos Ghosn has done at Nissan, and then follow up this reorganisation with a whole series of desirable products designed like Italian cars, with engineering on the level of the Germans and safety to challenge the Swedes, and all built with the same attention to detail as the Japanese and Koreans. Or, ideally, do it all even better than these benchmarks. The usual solutions are no longer working; the new reality is change or die. GM and Ford are at the crossroads: either they are successful or they will disappear, in fact if not in name. Twenty years ago it would have been impossible to imagine that Bentley, Jaguar and Rolls-Royce would no longer be British or Chrysler American; today this is a fait accompli. Five years ago who would ever have thought that Cadillac would only be able to survive as the brand name of a car built in China? And yet at the moment there is a fifty per cent probability that this will happen (in the best of cases)”.

The article continues in Auto & Design no. 157