Cars and Concepts

Industry feels Europe's pain

Just a year ago, the troubling stories that were 6,000 miles and an ocean away seemed like distant thunder. Twelve months later, on a picture-perfect August day in Traverse City, the financial storm in Europe is here.

"There are ominous signs," Jay Baron, CEO of the Center for Automotive Research, said just before Monday's official start of the Management Briefing Seminars. "There are issues and constraints we're very worried about."

Traverse City is a long way from Turin or Toulouse, but the decision-makers here this week are watching the European financial crisis roll this way. It's affecting their short-term decisions and changing their long-term outlook.

John Fleming, Ford's global manufacturing boss and the CEO of Ford of Europe from 2005 to 2009, doesn't see an immediate end to the crisis. Ominously, he can't predict an end date.

"We can't see the total European industry improving," he said. "The issues are more structural than tactical."

That's code for, plants must close, automakers must rethink and changes have to be made. North America may be on a solid road, but how firm is an industry that is so globally connected?

On a day when Spain seemed to be stumbling toward a full bailout - in an ironic twist, Spain's finance minister used to head up Lehman Brothers' Spanish operations - suppliers and automakers are bracing for the future.

The question is: Who's ready?