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Monday, 7 January, 2002, 00:13 GMT
Detroit's renaissance on hold
Detroit street scene, GM headquarters in background
The car industry dominates Motor City's drab landscape
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David Schepp
BBC News Online's North America Business Reporter

Inside Detroit's grand Cobo Center, all the glitz and glamour at the annual North American International Auto Show stands in stark contrast to the grey and gritty landscape that surrounds it.

Greektown Casino
Casino gambling has helped revitalise downtown
Detroit, the Motor City, so named because it is the headquarters for General Motors (GM), the world's largest motor company, Ford Motor and Chrysler Group, has been trying to refashion itself for years.

Long beleaguered by crime and the fickle nature of the automobile business, the much-touted renaissance has resulted in halting progress in Michigan's largest city.

While Greektown, a festive neighbourhood just north of GM's world headquarters, offers city dwellers a break from Detroit dreariness with crowded restaurants and casinos, large sections of the city's centre have been abandoned for sake of greener - and safer - suburban pastures.

Detroit's uneven renaissance is not unlike the revival that the Big Three undergo with much regularity. No sooner does one auto maker turn a profitable corner only to succumb to the latest financial crisis or shift in consumer demand.

Reviving demand

In recent months, Detroit's auto makers, fearful that a slowing economy and September's terrorist attacks would keep consumers out of their showrooms, handed out expensive incentives as a way to persuade buyers to buy, buy, buy.

Statue of Joe Louis, Detroit Cobo Centre
Detroit's fighting spirit is embodied in famed boxer Joe Louis
If only it were so easy to draw residents back to Detroit. In the latest census, Detroit, Pontiac and other older communities lost many citizens, who left in search of the benefits of suburban living - lower cost of living, better schools and less crime.

During the 1990s, over 50,000 people fled Wayne County, of which Detroit is the seat of government.

The city of Detroit now has half the 1.8 million people it had in the 1950s, during the heydays of the Motor City.

But the city that holds the dreams of so many automobile enthusiasts - not to mention factory workers - has reason to believe its future could be brighter.

Fresh faces

Following on the mostly successful tenure of Mayor Dennis Archer, who ran the city since 1994, a new youthful leader has taken the reins of city government, promising to weed out waste and pursue excellence.

At 31, Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick may seem to some to be too young to lead a city renowned for its decades of decay. His presence, however, is commanding, and his call for government reform much welcomed.

Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick
Detroit's new mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick, hopes to revitalise the mouldering city
The shift in Detroit city power takes place at the same time that both GM and Ford, the world's top auto makers, have recently undergone major management changes.

Gone is the contentious Jac Nasser at the head of Ford. Instead, family scion William Clay Ford now heads up the world's second largest car manufacturer, promising to rebuild morale and the company's quality reputation.

At GM, "car guys" are running the show, insisting they will make money by bringing desirable products quickly to the marketplace - not just by cost-cutting.

The new mayor? He, too, is looking to rebuild, by forging allegiances and demanding results.

The efforts of these three well-known institutions are perhaps acknowledgment that Detroit cannot continue to do business-as-normal if it wishes to remain the pre-eminent motor city.

The BBC's Stephen Evans
"Detroit is the home of the car industry"

See also:

22 May 01 | Americas
Detroit's rocky road
11 Feb 01 | Business
Motor City Blues
05 Dec 01 | Business
Ford warns of steep losses
05 Jan 01 | Business
Carmakers go back to the future
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