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A Trip to Detroit

Posted in Posts, and Syllabus Schedule

This past week Washington and Lee’s Economics of the Auto Industry class, the creators of many of the posts on this blog, took a class trip up to Detroit. We spent the week wining and dining with some of the most important people in the auto industry and learned many valuable lessons. Some of them were inane: everything is better with double washington caramel appletinis, and some of them were important: Ford, by way of not needing to go through bankruptcy, appears to now have a huge edge over GM and Chrysler. 

Our base for these activities was the Best Western Greenfield, pictured above, and our three vehicles were a Ford Fusion, a Dodge Journey, and a Dodge Avenger, the last of which, based on its (lack of) pick-up, seemed to have a non-functioning cylinder or three. Some of the people we met with include: Ellen Hughes-Cromwick, the chief economist for Ford, Bill Vlasic, the New York Times’ auto journalist, Jim Treece, an editor for AN, and J May, the chief creative director for Ford. We also visited a number of factories in the Detroit area, the Ford museum, the Detroit Institute of the Arts, and the University of Michigan.

The Avenger struggled to “Avenge” much of anything (credit to Daniel Tomm for putting the problem so succinctly)

I will leave the details of these meetings and day trips for someone else to discuss, but suffice to say it was an incredible experience to ask incredibly influential people whatever we wanted, from parallels between auto design and fashion, to the mood inside Ford in the midst of the crisis of 2008-2009.

From spending time together in the motel conference room, which the nice people at the Best Western Greenfield so kindly offered us, to witnessing the first semi-successful use of the iPhone app Tinder, it was also what we did when not studying the auto industry which made this trip a success. Sure, one could say that there were moments with a bit of tension, but on the whole I believe I speak for the group in saying it was great for us to get to know each other.

I’ll leave this post with an aside of sorts. The song played most frequently during our drive up to and back from Detroit was likely “Freedom,” from the movie Django, and it is worth a listen. It is linked below.


  1. clara

    Really, Blake?

    May 11, 2013
  2. gjeong

    I really enjoyed the trip to Detroit. My favorite part of the trip was the talk with the CFO of Tower International. He briefly went over the histories of Ford and Tower, and why the foreign automaker, like Toyota, was doing better in the U.S. industry in the past. Quality and currency exchange rate were the key reasons for their better performance. American companies were able to catch up with the quality but I am not sure what will happen with yen vs. U.S. dollar.

    May 12, 2013
  3. kuveke

    Haha I listened to Freedom on my way to the bank this morning #Irony. Anyway… I still would be interested in hearing Professor Smitka’s analysis of Metalsa in comparison to Tower. The Metalsa factory was clean and spacious as compared to the cramped and dark Tower factory. As we have already discussed the Metalsa factory we visited used to be run by Tower so hopefully we can take some time over the next week to discuss the differences in business strategy and production strategy between the two.

    May 12, 2013
  4. 1. We had dinner with Dave Versical from AN as Jim Treece was down sick.

    2. Surely in a group with many under-21 participants “wining and dining” represents wishful thinking. Indeed Al Ameer in Dearborn, where we ate twice, is a “dry” restaurant.

    3. To my knowledge I’ve not heard the Django song. Should I want to?

    As to Metalsa vs Tower, our lack of steel-toed shoes kept us from seeing the robots in action from up close. I didn’t find Tower particularly dark; it is however a very different product, high volume passenger vehicle frames rather than heavy commercial truck ones that may be one-off special orders. They’re very different businesses.

    May 14, 2013
    • clara

      Professor, I do not recommend you to listen to the Django song, based on my experience with your passionate interest in old music.

      May 15, 2013

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