Detroit's drowsy shutdown is needed this year

Right now, we're at a strange point in the annual cadence of Detroit's auto culture.

The Fourth of July has passed. The weather is hot and steamy. And it's tough to get a Detroit 3 employee -- top-ranking exec or otherwise -- on the phone.

Yup, we're in the midst of the D3's annual two-week summer shutdown, a tradition originally based around factory changeover for the fall launch of new model-year vehicles.

That isn't quite the necessity that it once was -- a point that didn't escape General Motors CEO Ed Whitacre, who's keeping most GM plants humming during the first half of July.

But I'm not quite willing to scorn the tradition for one simple reason: The folks at the D3 companies really, really need the break. Their vacations at other times in the year are peppered with e-mail, phone mail and an obligation to phone in for meetings.

One exec recently told me that the shutdown is "my only real vacation." And I recall a manager-level D3 person talking about how great it was to get some uninterrupted time off, and to come back with just a few messages waiting.

Particularly after the past year, D3 employees need to decompress.