According to the business media, two Detroit auto shows just opened. One holds unquestioned promise and is hosted by savvy auto companies with lengthy histories of satisfying the public. The other is hosted by stumbling automakers running out of cash fast and hoping against hope that their current efforts to go green and smaller don't prove to be too little, too late.
Alas, there aren't two Detroit auto shows. There's just one, which goes until Jan. 25. But while some members of the business media are presenting appropriately sober views of the show, others, dazzled by an array of groovy-looking new cars (which might not sell or even come to market in time), have plain lost their heads and better judgment.
Be ever vigilant that the report you are reading is based in the real world -- that is to say, the complicated, challenged world, short on time for the stumbling automakers presenting their wares (sometimes like carnival barkers) in Detroit. The consequences of the blindly positive alternative, especially this year, are self-evident.
Just look at these two wire-service reports of the auto show's opening. They read like a point/counterpoint debate. The mind reels that they were written about the same event.
First you have the
, which could have been writing about an auto show from years ago, back when the health, well-being and competency of the automakers were not open to much examination. The headline showcased the cool new cars, even though there is no assurance that they will make it to showrooms, much less driveways: "
GM shows plan for Chevy minicar, electric Cadillac
, by favorable contrast, chose in its headline to keep its eye on the here and now: "
GM says could seek further U.S. loans
, by unfavorable contrast, waits until halfway through the article to mention the government loan issue, much less the fact that more money might be needed. Right after that, it passes along a bumptious and false claim by
CEO Rick Wagoner that his company has had a good few years satisfying customers: "'We've made tremendous progress in the past several years of making cars and trucks that consumers really want to buy,' Wagoner said."
Well, he said it. But it isn't true. Yet instead of putting such self-serving and misleading comments in perspective,
went right back to work prattling on about new models with suspect potential: "GM also is showing off new versions of the Buick LaCrosse sedan, and the Chevrolet Equinox and Cadillac SRX crossover SUVs at the show. Those new 2010 models are set to go on sale later this year."
How about those essential negotiations with the United Auto Workers? To the
, they are part of a laundry list of items that include talk with bond holders and cost cuts that Wagoner is "frankly" confident about. He mentions break-even and even profitability.
, by favorable contrast, uses a positive quote from Wagoner about the potential of negotiations with the UAW, but only to put the spread between the quote and reality into perspective: "`I think it's fair to say everyone's attitude has been cooperative,' Wagoner said."
This was followed immediately by perspective: "But the GM CEO stopped short of saying GM would be able to meet the specific targets for UAW concessions as outlined by the Bush administration."
And it's important perspective. GM does have to show the government progress when it goes back in March to beg for the money it will most probably need to keep it afloat for the several months after that. If not? Well, frankly, it won't be good.
Anyhow, we can go on. And on. But we'll end with the end.
sums up by letting Wagoner effectively blame the economy: "Wagoner predicted a slow first half of this year, but the start of a recovery in the second half as loosening credit and President-elect Barack Obama's economic stimulus package take effect to boost the economy from 'very, very low levels.'"
, however, makes the apt comparison between GM and the other car markers. As bad as the economy has been, GM is underperforming the other carmakers, so maybe it hasn't been giving customers just what they've wanted the past few years, as
let Wagoner get away with saying. And maybe it won't satisfy its customers going forward, either, as the
, which covered the Detroit auto show that was taking place here on earth: "U.S. auto sales tumbled by 18 percent in 2008, and GM's sales dropped 23 percent."
At the time of publication, Fuchs had no positions in any of the stocks mentioned in this column.
Marek Fuchs was a stockbroker for Shearson Lehman Brothers and a money manager before becoming a journalist who wrote The New York Times' "County Lines" column for six years. He also did back-up beat coverage of The New York Knicks for the paper's Sports section for two seasons and covered other professional and collegiate sports. He has contributed frequently to many of the Times' other sections, including National, Metro, Escapes, Style, Real Estate, Arts & Leisure, Travel, Money & Business, Circuits and the Op-Ed Page. For his "Business Press Maven? column on how business and finance are covered by the media, Fuchs was named best business journalist critic in the nation by the Talking Biz website at The University of North Carolina School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Fuchs is a frequent speaker on the business media, in venues ranging from National Public Radio to the annual conference of the Society of American Business Editors and Writers. Fuchs appreciates your feedback;
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