To my mind, it's not the cars that make so many people love the auto business. It's the cash. Even in the worst of times -- even in the most miserable economic environment -- the automotive industry positively gushes money. It just flows and flows.
Things are never really bad in this business. The thing that determines whether we call them good times or bad times is the breakeven level.
Even though we are navigating through 11-12 million SAAR waters, cost bases have come down so dramatically that carmakers are reporting big profits. Beaten-down suppliers are ready to spring off the canvas when production picks up -- as it's doing.
These days feel a bit like February 1984, when I joined Automotive News. The industry was just rounding into shape after an extended recession.
In 1984 and 1985, the hardest thing GM Chairman Roger Smith had to do when he got to the office each day was figure out how to spend all the money that was rolling in.
Bob Lutz was helping launch America's SUV craze while doing a short stint as head of Ford trucks (seen as a demotion at the time, trucks being a backwater). Lutz took one look at the tall, narrow Ford Bronco II in the pipeline and decided on a wider track, a bigger interior and new styling. It became the Explorer.
The industry may be on the verge of a similar creative spree. But if the rivers of cash flow again in Detroit, the money ought to be spent more sensibly than it was back then.
Auto historians like to vent about how the Detroit 3 invested the profits they made in the 1980s.
GM bought Hughes, EDS and Saab; Ford bought Jaguar; Chrysler acquired Gulfstream Aerospace, FinanceAmerica, Electrospace Systems, Lamborghini and American Motors.
Money well-spent? You can argue that some of those extravagances turned out fine.
But overall it was an opportunity wasted for the Big 3.