The pall is gone in Detroit

Jason Stein is editor of Automotive News
It’s more cars than carpet at the General Motors display.

At Ford, the buzz is all about a double win in the Car and Truck of the Year awards.

Chrysler’s light bulbs are no longer dim.

Volkswagen is setting sales records. Luxury brands are confident. And the Congressional delegation was all smiles.

What a difference a year makes.

“There was a pall over this show the last two years,” Mazda North America CEO Jim O’Sullivan told me on Monday afternoon, the first press day at the North American International Auto Show. “There’s kind of a feeling that ‘We made it. If we’re here, we survived.’”

Last year we were wondering who would survive. Product took a backseat to bailout talk and bankruptcy rumors.

But the buzz is back.

There are glimpses of hope everywhere.

The VW brand expects to double its market share from 2 percent to 4 percent, selling as many as 450,000 vehicles in the United States in the next three to four years. The automaker expects to be profitable in North America in 2013 as it launches new vehicles built here.

At GM, there is attitude again.

“I don’t like taking punches anymore,” GM North America President Mark Reuss said at a roundtable Monday. “We’re tired of it.”

Reuss said GM needs to go on the offense. “It’s time to go kick some butt here,” he said. “It’s time.”

Detroit 2010 has a new stamp of optimism. There is the legitimate feeling that costs have been reduced, almost everyone is healthier and the economy is showing signs of growth.

Distractions have been replaced by conversations of cycle plans.

The bottom line, as one Mazda PR person told me, “the weather is now the conversation again. Just like the old days.”