Rod Meloni: For all of Detroit's troubles, a glimmer of hope!

American automakers get praise at Automotive Press Association Luncheon

By Rod Meloni - Reporter, CFP ®
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DETROIT - Yes, Detroit is on municipal bankruptcy's doorstep and yes, Wayne County's new jail project is roughly $100 million over budget and an emergency manager more than likely waits in the wings for the county as well.

There is plenty to make you wonder if Detroit will ever recover from this aimless and corrupt government.

Then something so improbable happens that you start to think not all is lost.

Read: Report: Chevy has best pickups of all automakers

At the Automotive Press Association Luncheon [where I am a board member] J.D. Power and Associates made an announcement so stunning I thought I had been doused with a Gatorade bucket full of ice water. Uneventfully tucked away in a top 10 list of its initial quality list for 2013, J.D. Power's David Sargent unveiled not one but TWO General Motors brands cracking the top five.

GMC was 2nd in overall initial quality behind Porsche! Have we taken a time machine back about 75 years? To get an idea just how off-the-charts crazy GMC's showing was, it has never in the 30-plus years of the survey placed better than 9th overall. That kind of a jump is rare. More impressive is the brands GMC leapfrogged.

Third came Lexus [usually in the top two], Infiniti and then Chevrolet! Chevy #5? It seems utterly impossible yet that's how this year's survey shook out. General Motors [more derisively known lately as Government Motors] overall was the No. 1 Initial Quality carmaker in the world. Yes, not just the U.S. but the entire world!

GMC and Chevy placed ahead of Acura, Toyota, Honda, Jaguar and Hyundai. Sargent said "we follow GM very closely. We know those guys very well; we expected them to do show good improvements this year we were a bit surprised how much they improved."

The reason why, he says, is because GM has changed its ways. It was not long ago GM listened to no one regarding product design or quality outside the company. It did not benchmark its quality with other automakers. The new GM knows this has to change so its design teams did the un-GM thing and started bringing consumers into the design process, allowing them to tell design engineers where they wanted buttons and how they used them. All of a sudden GM is acting like a Japanese automaker. Who would have thought? Who could have hoped?

Sargent went on to say "it's pretty much across the board whether new or old vehicles pretty much every product they build right now is of pretty good quality."

GM also spent extra time and effort squeezing better and better quality metrics on its factory floors. This post-bankruptcy era seems to show some very hard to learn lessons learned.

Now, let's be careful here. General Motors has a long way to go before it ascends to the top of the sales charts globally again. Toyota and Volkswagen will work hard to prevent GM ascendancy there. Next year GM will be unveiling a lot of new vehicles which means it's likely it will lose its number one perch in initial quality. If that does not happen it will likely end up a more notable one than this year's unlikely victory. But Sargent also says GM has a lot of work to do genuinely changing its greatly tarnished image. This notable blip on the auto radar is not likely to entirely undo the damage of a couple generations of horribly designed and built cars and trucks. Still, this is a step in the right direction that GM can and will savor.

No, Detroit will not morph into the once great city it was overnight, in a week or even in a decade from now. But there is a glimmer of hope that the city, the region and the state have finally scraped rock bottom and since the only place from here is up let's all keep swimming in that direction.

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