Who doesn't love the Paris Motor Show? You wake up and see the Eiffel Tower through your window. You jump on the Metro outside your hotel in the 7th Arrondisement and arrive at the show's front door. If you're lucky, you can dine on lunch from a Michelin 3-star restaurant right on the show floor.
But this year's Paris show has a scary feeling to it, that night before a massive blizzard sensation. The same kind of feeling we got in Detroit in 2009. For consumers and car fans there are many exciting new car launches. For European industry professionals there's a sense of dread.
All over Europe, car companies are hanging on to the railing as the auto industry ship tosses and turns. Everybody has a crisis on their hands. Fiat's Sergio Marchionne is tearing up his production plans, Ford wants employees to take a hike, and we have no clue what Opel will end up doing in the long run.
And that's not all. Peugeot got kicked off France's version of the Dow Jones Index, and even Volkswagen, which has made money through all of this, scared investors Tuesday when it said that business conditions are about to get worse.
Politicians from France to Italy, Spain to Greece are grabbing their share of automotive attention, arguing that the car companies have to protect the very workers who are probably making their business too expensive to run. Unlike the U.S., European companies can't simply close the doors and turn out the lights on their plants. It takes years to close a factory there, because of labor laws and strong contracts.
So, how do you have an auto show in the middle of this? Back in 2009, Detroit did its best to keep its chin up. Michigan's then-governor, Jennifer Granholm, led a parade on behalf of the home state industry down the show floor, which essentially destroyed her credibility with the foreign companies that she'd been courting over the years.
(Those "Here to Stay" signs didn't work for Rick Wagoner, by the way. He was gone by April Fool's Day.)
But it was hard to be convincing about the future of the American industry when GM and Chrysler had just accepted the first billions in bailout money from the Bush Administration, and Chrysler was on the verge of being taken over by Fiat.
It was a show when people looked at Chinese car companies and wondered when they'd get to the U.S. (they still aren't really here, although they've got their hands full with the swelling market back home).
Mainly, though, everyone talked about what might happen to GM and Chrysler, whether Ford would regret not taking federal money, and what the new Obama administration was going to mean.
At least the Americans only had to worry about one president. In Paris, you need the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles to hold everyone who wants to kick their crisis around. Did I mention that they're trying to hold an auto show?
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