My second trip to the Detroit auto show was in 1999, and I will never forget it, if only for its spectacular awfulness.
A dusting of snow was predicted for that Saturday, but instead the Motor City got walloped with about a foot and half of "white stuff" that soon became gray, mushy, heavy … stuff.
After flying in from Lexington, Ky., I paid $50 to be one of six passengers jammed in a taxi for a gouge-tastic ride downtown and checked in at the none-too-glamorous Ramada.
It seemed that the implosion of the old Hudson's department store building got a little overenthusiastic, so the People Mover was shut down for its most important week of the year when hardly anyone could drive around downtown.
And yet the show went on.
My luggage never did get unloaded in Detroit, so I had to wear the same clothes each day and wash my underwear in the sink each night. But I managed to trudge through the knee-deep snow to Cobo Center each day, cover press conferences, do a few interviews and write a couple of stories. Then slog through the slush to the Lindell AC for burgers and beers.
It wasn't easy, but the work got done. Alas — auto shows are not like that anymore.
There's no show in Detroit proper this year. And the local dealers' replacement event — scheduled to be outside in the glory of Michigan in late summer and early fall — was pounded by a cold, driving, potentially dangerous rainstorm that led to the cancellation of the second day's activities.
Back in the glory days of the international auto show, nothing could derail one. Now, an event gets washed away by rain.
Not to put too fine of a point on it, but it feels like there's a metaphor here.
Like Motor Bella in suburban Detroit, the auto industry in 2021 had its second-half hopes crushed by forces it could not control.
Rather than chip supplies recovering after summer and factories cranking away to make up for lost production, shortages are persisting, projections are falling and the outlook for recovery is murky at best.
I was supposed to moderate a panel discussion for the Society of Automotive Analysts at Motor Bella, where one of the speakers was to be Jeff Schuster, president of the Americas operations and global vehicle forecasting for LMC Automotive.
He initially projected that the industry would bounce back to full production this year — or even a little beyond with overtime to make up for last year's COVID-19-slumped results. But instead of U.S. light-vehicle sales jumping to 17.5 million, he now doesn't even see them reaching 15 million.
Week after week, he said, LMC has been adjusting its expectations for the year downward and more downward.
"As we're talking, I'm wondering if I should lower my forecast even further," he joked before we recorded a "Daily Drive" podcast.