OK, we've had our celebrations. We've worried about Y2K and survived after spending a zillion dollars to fix the glitches. We've enjoyed watching as 1999 set every possible U.S. sales record.
So what have you done for me lately?
This automobile industry is a tough task-master. And it doesn't matter what you did in the past century, the past month or the past 10 days. Tell me what you're going to do for me right now, and I might be interested. Henry Ford once said that history is bunk, and while I don't think he meant it completely, I know that this business doesn't spend a lot of time dwelling on the past. The future is far too demanding to worry about what has already happened.
As we move into the excitement of the North American International Auto Show this week in Detroit with all of its new models and concepts, folks aren't sitting around and reminiscing about last year's smashing successes.
This business is full of contradictions. The old 10-day sales reports now are monthly sales reports, although the sales executives follow sales every day. And yet, the time from conception to introduction of a new vehicle is still years. It's impossible to make sharp turns when the time period is so long.
That's the good news and the bad. When you can't react to passing fancies, you tend to have evolutionary designs rather than revolutionary designs. It's just too dangerous to start something that may arrive on the showroom floor five or six years from today and turn out to be too radical or strange.
On the other hand, when a design must have a five- or 10-year life, you have to be on the cutting edge, or it could look dated before it is introduced.That's why concept cars are even more important today than when there were annual design changes. They give automakers a chance for some feedback for those billion-dollar decisions.
In the next couple of weeks, you'll read a lot about product. That's because product is still king. Marketing will take a back seat to prototypes, show cars and new-model launches. It's the most exciting part of the automobile business, and the part that determines the successes and failures.
That's why everyone shows up at the auto show in Detroit.