By their nature, anniversaries are times given to reflection and introspection — a nudge from memory to recall a loved one or an event from earlier in our existence that left an indelible impression, even as time passed.
But when memories are as painful and traumatic as those surrounding the events from 2009 — when the entire North American auto industry hung by a thin thread — human nature sometimes whitewashes our memories, or makes us resist remembering completely.
Already, the saga of the 2009 bankruptcies of Chrysler and General Motors has been recounted numerous times. Some may be tempted to say that the events of a decade ago are no longer relevant, that circumstances have changed, leaders have changed, that it couldn't happen again.
But that would be wrong.
The scars from that era remain top of mind industrywide, even if the pain from those events was more heavily concentrated in some areas than others. When, for example, a hugely profitable General Motors opts to close assembly plants in the face of withering opposition from politicians and labor, the company can credibly justify those actions by recalling how overcapacitized it was a decade ago and the financial reckoning that resulted.
And when dealers warn that automakers are stuffing them with inventory, that new-vehicle departments are in the red because prices and interest rates have risen, and automakers were slow to respond to changing tastes, they issue those alarms based on the harrowing experiences of a decade ago.
The events of 2008 and 2009 changed everyone who lived through them. We would argue that the psychological impact was perhaps deeper at what was then Chrysler than at GM, in part because Chrysler's two-month wash through an expedited bankruptcy proceeding was a test case. Unlike at GM — too big to fail and benefiting from the legal precedent of its smaller rival — there was no guarantee that Chrysler would emerge on the other side. The result was a more profound near-death experience for the Chrysler employees, and perhaps a greater appreciation of the phrase carpe diem.
This industry, from suppliers to automakers to dealers, must never forget how it almost collapsed a decade ago, nor how it eventually crawled out of that deep, dark hole.