Prospects for a government bailout of the Detroit 3 appear to be as slim as an automaker’s profit margin.  What would happen if one re of the U.S.-based auto producers went wheels up?  Most economists expect that the other two would follow, along with hundreds of suppliers. 

What would this post-Detroit 3 world look like at that point?  According to widely circulated comments from Sean McAlinden of Ann Arbor’s Center for Automotive Research,   “You would have an auto industry in the United States more like that of Mexico and Canada: foreign-owned.” 

The Toyotas, Hondas, Nissans and BMWs would scramble to assemble a new U.S. supplier base from the rubble and eventually could thrive in their American overseas outpost.  But where does that leave us U.S.-centric consumers and business owners?  We literally would need to learn to speak a different language to communicate effectively in our Eurasian economic setting.  Some of the adaptations we might need to make could include:

  • An intensified focus on understanding one or more languages that once were foreign to us but which now have become the lingua franca of manufacturing.

  • Learning and adopting new work processes and work cultures that need to be communicated internally among supplier organizations.

  • A shift in entrepreneurial marketing messages to appeal to business customers with global foundations first and to the rest of America second.

  • Immensely enlarged communications from emerging companies (new suppliers, energy innovators, seeking to establish a foothold where others have fallen.

  • A geographical shift in target audiences away from traditional large metro areas with purchasing power that has been shattered through loss of Detroit 3 jobs and investment to burgeoning towns and cities in the Southeast and on the West Coast where foreign-owned automakers will gain heightened economic influence.

  • Significantly increased travel between the United States and Japan, Germany and Mexico (where many Asian companies assemble vehicles) as the concept of “home office” transforms to someplace overseas or south of the border.  Such travel needs will require more and different types of communications in time zones separated by the international dateline as much as by domestic time zones.

  • A major shift in marketing communications on the part of healthcare providers who could be dealing with tens of thousands of consumers who lost their health insurance coverage along with their Detroit 3 jobs.

  • A need to provide more executive training to foreign-based automotive leaders and managers who will be making an increasing number of presentations to U.S. employees and media.

In short, we can expect the new new economy to be a world in which acting locally and thinking globally will be one and the same.  We’d better be ready to explain it.

–Steve Friedman

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