Battered Detroit puts on a smile

A badly battered Detroit was doing its best to put on a bright smile for the nation's premier auto show that opens today in the wake of one of the worst years in Motown's history.

Hometown giants General Motors and Chrysler were forced to seek billions in government loans and finally bankruptcy protection in the wake of a collapse in auto sales amid a broad economic crisis.

And while Ford managed to both stay afloat and increase its share of the shrunken market, the Detroit Three were dethroned by Asian automakers in 2009 as the biggest sellers in the US market.

"It was a year that nobody wants to repeat," said Rebecca Lindland, an analyst at IHS Global Insight. "The one silver lining is that only two of our major car companies had to declare bankruptcy because just looking at how the sales fell, it's a miracle that more didn't have to."

Auto sales were down worldwide and in the US they fell 21.2 per cent to 10.43 million vehicles in 2009, according to Autodata figures released last week. That is the lowest level since the 1983 recession and drastically below the 15 to 17 million vehicle range posted in each of the previous 15 years.

The collapse came as Detroit was smarting from years of mass layoffs and plant closures as GM, Ford and Chrysler restructured their operations in the wake of a decades-long loss of market share to Asian rivals.

 

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