TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- The rounds of golf on the long, undulating courses are fewer -- down dramatically from the clogged tee times during the prerecession heyday. The after-hours parties are smaller and quieter. And more and more executives who used to make the trip here to northern Michigan are matter-of-fact in saying that they are only in for a day, then quickly out and back to the office.
The Center for Automotive Research celebrated a half century of its supplier-rich Management Briefing Seminars last week.
Fifty years of tradition rest here along Grand Traverse Bay, but there's also the real feel that the industry is stepping into uncharted waters.
Why is the ritualistic social event of the summer smaller?
Listen to the executives for the answer: The pace of the industry has never been faster.
The auto business, particularly in North America, is moving at a clip that's difficult to harness -- and everyone wants in. Yesterday.
One consultant to Ford talked about a busier August than any in his previous two decades. A stamping supplier mentioned the XL-sized outlays for exhibit space at next month's Frankfurt auto show -- a level of investment that feels about five years ahead of the 2020 prediction for a full European recovery.
And then there was the firecracker of the sessions when General Motors' chief economist, Mustafa Mohatarem, talked about a U.S. light-vehicle sales record this year or next -- surpassing the 17.4 million mark set in 2000.
"I have full confidence that in this cycle we will see the U.S. at an all-time record," he said, citing low inflation and fuel prices and the fact that more young people are finding jobs.
In the hallways here, some people even whispered 18 million sales.
For an industry that has been prone to amnesia, is this just a cruel setup for a huge correction?
Not this time.
What's not said is what lingers in every conversation -- from automakers to suppliers to affiliated players: There is still a general unease about adding too much capital expenditure too quickly. Some months ago we called it "rational exuberance."
That seems to fit.
Maybe the trough was deep enough to keep sane people from doing the insane. Maybe the scars from 2009 are still too vivid.
Whatever it is, the fundamentals of the business have been right for some time.
The growth is steady and sure. And the partnerships brokered through the "survival years" have fostered better relationships.
People are working. The world is spinning. The price: The golf clubs are packed away, and maybe for good.