Why Paris In 2012 Is A Lot Like Detroit In 2009

Illustration for article titled Why Paris In 2012 Is A Lot Like Detroit In 2009

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.

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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.

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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.

Illustration for article titled Why Paris In 2012 Is A Lot Like Detroit In 2009

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.

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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.)

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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.

There was an emphasis placed on green cars, and you can look back on the 2009 show as turning point in the industry accepting that it had to pay more than lip service to fuel economy.

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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.

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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?

Photo Credit: Getty Images

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DISCUSSION

You know that point in time when you're just completely numb to something?

I think I've reached that point.

I used to be far, far more enthusiastic about cars than I am not. It wasn't very long ago that I lived and breathed cars. I loved cars. All kinds of cars. Old cars, new cars, big cars, small cars, and sometimes, cars just for a curve on the hood. Every new car that came out, be it an Italian hyperexotic or a Japanese Kei car, was a source of endless fascination for me. I used to love reading about them, throwing them together in hypothetical comparisons, critiquing buff mag comparisons, and just looking at the damn things. Every aspect of them just fascinated me.

Lately, however, that just seems to have changed. Don't get me wrong, I still love cars. I still want a 1957 GMC 1/2 ton pickup, a 1958 Chevrolet Corvette, a 1974 Jeep Cherokee, a 1978 Trans Am, a 1981 AMC Eagle SX/4, a 1988 IROC-Z Camaro, and all sorts of other cars. But for some reason, the passion is just gone. I don't really know or understand why; maybe it's all the politics surrounding cars. Maybe it's the general douchebaggery of so-called "automotive enthusiasts" these days. Maybe it's the fact that I'm shit broke. And maybe, just maybe, it's all of the above. Who knows? I certainly don't. All I know that the passion is just gone.

Sure, there are still beautiful and interesting cars that are coming out all the time, cars that stand out for not being quite as clinical as most cars these days. That new Jaguar F-type is a sexy little thing, and an example of an interesting car coming out. But I'm notably less interested in throwing it into a hypothetical comparison against the Boxster/Cayman, SLK, or Z4. I'm not quite as enthusiastic about reading the story and the facts behind its engineering and construction. The engine stats just aren't as big of a deal to me. As for looks, as I said, it's a sexy little thing; but, then, there are lots of other pretty faces out there too.

(And really, how fucking terrible that we live in an age where there are so many sexy cars being made! First world problems, right?)

For whatever reason, the passion that used to be present, the magic, seems to be missing. I don't really know why, and as such I don't have any idea how, exactly, to fix that. Right now, I'm just kind of numb to it all. And I think that the rest of the world has reached, or is reaching, that same point of numbness and apathy. Even the always lively Parisians just don't seem to give a damn right now.

It's a sad thing, but it's been going on for a couple of years now, and as much as I'd like to think that we're on the cusp of a swing in the opposite direction, I just get the feeling that we have a ways to go yet. The problem is just too multi-faceted for there to be a solid recovery plan. Which is actually a very scary thought when you think about it. There's the old saying that "The night is always darkest just before the dawn." If things are already this dark, this dull, how much worse must everything get before we wake up to a brighter dawn?