7/1/2009 | 3 MINUTE READ

Incredulity & Reality

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Some things are too hard to believe. Welcome to the real world.


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Who would have believed it? Who would have imagined it? Some people thought that Ford executives had taken leave of their senses when they went to the financial market in 2006 and even put their blue oval up for collateral in order to get a robust line of credit. Unimaginable, right? Toyota loses money after 70 years of profits. That's right: 70 years in the black. And while they've had a comparative drop of red ink vis-à-vis other vehicle manufacturers, given their enviable run, that tiny dot is like a laser beam. Chrysler files for Chapter 11 and positions itself—for a second time—to be acquired by a European vehicle manufacturer, despite the fact that its relationship with its previous owner, Daimler, didn't work out for the so-called American icon. Fiat? Unthinkable. Yet it happened. The sales of the auto industry fall with a bang, not a whimper. Sure, there is whimpering by those who chose not to take the once-generous buyout packages and who have now been left with just ashes. But this whimpering is drowned out by the sounds of barrels of red ink rushing through the hallways of the Renaissance Center. The auto industry, which had previously been talked about in Washington only when it came to emissions or fuel economy standards suddenly became a topic of the chattering herd.

And then the other shoe dropped. Dropped like that huge meteor that smacked into the southwest eons ago, changing the complexion of the terrain with a frightening immediacy. But in the case of the bankruptcy filing of General Motors, the change smashed factories, dealerships, and households across the land, and its impact continues to generate aftershocks that are devastating in and of themselves. Unimaginable. Unthinkable. Yet there it is.

It has happened fast. It has happened comprehensively. Thoroughly. It has affected OEMs. It has affected Tier One suppliers. And it has cascaded with an unprecedented furiousness throughout the entire automotive supply chain, rending that which is both tightly and loosely coupled.

It has even dealt a blow to us.

As you may have noticed on the cover of this issue, there are two months listed, not the conventional one. About six weeks ago we did the accounting and determined that business was off such that two separate issues were economically unsustainable. Then about three weeks ago, another, more wrenching decision, based on the numbers, was made. There would be but two issues beyond this for the remainder of 2009. Staff was cut to the bone. Salaries were cut through the bone.

Unthinkable? Unimaginable? Yes, all that. And more.

Welcome to the new normal.

The publishing business is like the auto business: Not all that great right now, and no one goes unaffected (just like even Toyota losing money). Newspapers across the land have filed for Chapter 11. Magazines have been shuttered. And many of the suppliers—in this case, the agencies that create the ads—have been slammed by the drastic drop in advertiser spending, a drop that is, in some ways, analogous to the decline in car sales. Beyond that, there are technological shifts, as well, as new generations of readers begin to gravitate more toward digital forms and away from ink on paper. This shift is somewhat analogous to the one in the auto industry, as people moved out of their light trucks and SUVs and into small(er) cars and CUVs.

So we must change. It isn't easy. Isn't simple. Isn't pleasing. Isn't painless. Isn't avoidable. And yet it is all-too real. It is a shift that I would have never seen coming a year ago. Yet here it is.

Next year, Automotive Design & Production will go from 12 issues per year to four. Yes, a serious cut. But these are serious times. We are going to be bolstering our digital offerings, so if you don't go to www.autofieldguide.com, start paying it a visit.

I am confident that the auto industry will come back. But I am certain that the industry that gets back on its feet will be one that has different concerns and considerations than the one that we know, concerns that aren't purely financial. Technical developments. Environmental issues. Demographic shifts. All of these are going to lead to an industry that will do things far differently in the next 100 years than it has during the past 100.

And one way or another, we will be around to talk to you about the ideas, issues and innovations.