The auto industry is resilient” is said so often, it borders on trite. Top leaders at automakers, suppliers and retailers have steered their businesses through the periodic downturns of the economic cycle — most recently, the global financial crisis that spawned the devastating Great Recession — by making tough but smart decisions. That’s the job.
An economic downturn is a normal, if unpleasant, part of life a business leader often can plan for. But a pandemic?
This year’s Automotive News All-Stars class confronted a threat like one America hasn’t seen since the industry’s early days, when the totality of U.S. sales was exceeded by what the Honda brand sold here in 2019.
What looked to be a promising year was abruptly upended late last winter by the emergence of an unpredictable, highly contagious and deadly virus with few treatment options, one that has disrupted the lives of every American and the operations of businesses large and small. Auto assembly and parts factories temporarily stopped production, and employees at plants and offices were sent home. Retailers found themselves wondering whether they could sell and service vehicles as states formulated stay-at-home orders.
In the words of Bill Ford, our 2020 Industry Leader of the Year: “Everybody had questions and nobody had answers.” He got the conversation rolling on the Detroit 3’s coronavirus response — halting vehicle production, establishing safe practices and rallying to manufacture ventilators and personal protective equipment — by leveraging relationships with the top leaders at General Motors and Fiat Chrysler and the UAW as well as officials in Michigan’s government.