Autos By The Numbers


    As the global automotive industry gathers this week in Detroit for the North American International Auto Show, executives face a mixed bag: either celebrate or worry.

    On the up side, 2002 came out the third best year ever for automotive production in North America, according to Ward’s Automotive. Automakers built 16.7 million vehicles in 2002, up 5.9 percent from the 15.8 million of 2001.

    The production level for 2002 is exceeded only by the 17.65 million units built in 2000 and 17.61 million units produced in 1999, Ward’s Automotive reported.

    While a strong production year is reason to celebrate, the party is largely tempered by the fact that sales in 2002 were driven by zero-percent financing and deep incentives offered by automakers to get people into the showrooms.

    Those incentives have taken their toll on the bottom lines of both automakers and their suppliers, who have been squeezed harder than ever to cut their prices.

    The results of a survey issued last week by the accounting firm KPMG LLP shows that auto industry executives are less confident today than they were a year ago about the overall industry’s return to the profitability levels of 2000. Thirty-six percent of the executives responding said they still expected better profits in 2003; 24 percent don’t expect improved profitability until 2004.

    For those who do see a better bottom line this year, they’ll have to do it at a time when vehicle production volumes are forecast to decrease.

    J.D. Power and Associates, in its annual automotive outlook, anticipates a 2003 production of 16.1 million units in North America. Domestic automakers will take the brunt of the decreased production, as J.D. Power sees new models from Honda, Mazda and Nissan helping them to drive their production higher this year.

    • A local look at the auto industry occurs Jan. 30-Feb. 2 when the 5th Annual Michigan International Auto Show invades the Grand Center. More than 32 manufacturers from around the world are expected to strut their stuff at the event, which is put on by ShowSpan Inc. and the Grand Rapids New Car Dealers Association.

    Organizers promise more factory displays, product specialists and concept/pre-production vehicles than ever before.

    And if that’s not enough, there are some special appearances scheduled that range from comedy to the sports world, including NASCAR.

    The stock car racing circuit’s hottest driver, TonyStewart, is scheduled to appear from 5-7 p.m. on Jan. 31. He will sign autographs and hold a special “question and answer” session for “as many people as can be accommodated in the auditorium lobby,” according to HenriBoucher, show producer. “We are incredibly pleased to be able to make this arrangement for the 2003 auto show. We expect very large crowds. Our intention is to have a system in place where early arrivals, lining up for Tony, will receive a special wristband that guarantees their place in the ‘first flight’ for autographs. Different wristbands will be given out for the second flight. We hope that thousands will be able to meet Tony in person.”

    For those who think politics is funny (and who doesn’t?), there is a special performance by DarrellHammond of Saturday Night Live fame during “The Miracle Tour Charity Gala,” which is a sneak preview scheduled for 6:30-10 p.m. on Jan. 29.

    Hammond may be best known for his impersonation of BillClinton, but with the winds of change in Washington, Hammond has adapted his personas as well. He has taken over playing practically the entire Bush Administration, from Vice President DickCheney, Defense Secretary DonaldRumsfeld and Attorney General JohnAshcroft to Homeland Security Chief TomRidge. Often, he plays all of those roles in the same sketch.

    Also appearing at the Auto Show is the program “The Road to the Tigers,” which features 2003 Detroit Tigers and West Michigan Whitecaps players and coaches.

    • If not by automobile, then by boat. Or, more specifically, buy a boat.

    Hard on the heels of the auto show is the 58th Annual Grand Center Boat Show, scheduled for Feb. 11-16.

    “Boating is highly popular in West Michigan,” Boucher said, “because of the Grand River, the closeness of Lake Michigan and the many inland lakes. Boat enthusiasts flock to our show to see all the new models and innovative electronics and other accessories.”

    How popular is boating in Michigan?

    Well, the National Marine Manufacturers Association released its latest 2001 figures on Dec. 18 for boat registrations, and those figures show an increase of 94,000 nationwide.

    “Michigan retained its title as the No. 1 boating state in the country, with more than 1 million recreational boats registered,” said DanGreen, NMMA spokesman. “The actual figure is 1,003,947, which beats No. 2 California by nearly 50,000 boats.”

    Boucher said there are a couple of reasons that this year’s show may surpass previous ones. He said low interest rates and special dealer promotions this year will likely spur sales and attendance records.

    “These days many people want to spend more time with their families. Boating offers choice, value and fun in a close-to-home family vacation.

    “The 16 key dealers in the show have reserved all available space. They will offer great selection and tremendous value for the boat-buying public,” he said.

    So what can attendees expect? Plenty of new technology.

    Hall’s Sport Center in Muskegon will debut the new Pro Sports and Four Winns models, including two types constructed with the new Virtual Engineered Composite technology. Action Water Sports in Holland will have a full line of MasterCraft boats, including ProStars, X-Series and MariStars. Lakeside Marine in Muskegon will unwrap a new line of Campion boats never before seen in the United States.

    And just to prove there’s something for everyone, Splendor Boats, of Michigan City, Ind., will unveil a new 14-foot “Poor Man’s Bass Boat.”

    Take that, California.           

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