By Jason Stein, editor, Automotive News
Detroit, Michigan -- Last week, government intervention, tsunamis and recalls finally stepped aside for a four-letter word: buzz.
The North American International Auto Show in downright balmy Detroit represented a thawing of hardened sentiment, as if an industry, for years stuck in a deep freeze of discontent, had finally found the heater.
Toyota predicted a "banner year" -- just months after slogging its way through a two-year muck of problems. Supplier executives talked of order banks that are full to bursting. The nation's biggest retailer, AutoNation, declared that the industry is on a "journey back to 16 million units."
And get this: At the Detroit auto show, which used to be dominated by big, honking trucks, no one debuted any trucks.
(Apologies. One company did: Smart.)
"There is a great deal of optimism," Renault-Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn said. "You are going to see a healthy market."
After the shocking financial collapse of 2008 and the massive collateral damage to the auto industry, the New Normal may have arrived. And it looks pretty darn good.
Take Ford, for example. When was the last time the darling of the Detroit show was a mid-sized sedan from a Detroit car company? This year the sleek, stylish and expensive-looking Fusion had everyone talking.
"It's an absolute knockout," said Hyundai US boss John Krafcik, who collected his own hardware with the North American Car of the Year award for the compact Elantra. Krafcik, a former Ford executive, couldn't resist a jab and joked that with the very Aston-like Fusion, he understood why Ford sold its Aston Martin brand -- "so that they can crib the design and not feel guilty. Very clever strategy."
It was a week rich in resiliency and optimism.
Sales predictions were bold -- some executives said their companies' sales will be up 20 percent; others predicted 30 percent.
See more of this story at www.autonews.com