As one reflects on the future of the auto industry while recuperating in a Detroit area convalescent home on May Day, it’s easy to let a mind wander across a map of big-ticket players in the decades behind.
On a background note, who would have dreamed in 2003 that such mainstays and legends as Mercury, Saturn, and Pontiac would become has-beens or that Cadillac and Lincoln would be surviving only as full-line brands complete with midsize and even “baby” models?
For that matter, retiring Automotive News editor Peter Brown kept alive his sterling record as an auto industry forecaster. Brown, a daily-newspaper veteran from Ann Arbor, MI, was on the money with his prophesy that Automotive News, a tabloid and daily since its founding in the 1920s, would “never” adopt a magazine format to rival the “buffbooks” (Car and Driver, Motor Trend et al.)
Over the years, starting with Automotive News’ employment of yours truly as a copy reader in July, 1944, this chronicler has indulged in fearless forecasts, inspired by news-gathering junkets to such auto meccas as Wolfsburg, Paris, Milan, Valencia, and Tokyo.
Brown and the publisher of Automotive News, Keith Crane, will remain a vital cog in automotive publishing, going further than Detroit’s daily newspapers in defending the “equities” of the 1,700-member-franchise system when GM, Chrysler and Ford opportunistically pared their dealer ranks, during the federal bailout years of 2007-10.
At age 85, I fondly recall numerous talks at state dealer conventions (Wyoming, Texas, Ohio, Michigan, South Carolina) being introduced as a “franchise system defender” “brand champion” in the Oldsmobile shutdown year) covering every NADA convention for Auto Age magazine and the unforgettable Motor News Analysis newsletters.
When our dealer advisory board complained about my being “too anti-factory,” that raised an issue which irked me no end.
The late Ben Bidwell, a high ranking executive of Ford and Chrysler, bitterly griped to us about being “anti-factory.” “You’ve been a pain in the ass ever since you started those goddamn newsletters,” Ben wrote. “No non-dealer should be such a factory hater.”
To this day, I regret turning down a $25,000 buy-in offer for a bankrupt Ford-Lincoln-Mercury store in Port Huron, MI.
To be a dealer was always my lifelong desire. “Gordon Ford never happened, Bidwell declaring years later, “Mac, you’re a great writer, but great writers would be lousy dealers.”