Column: This is not a column about the auto show or UAW — sorry!

Editor’s note: This column was written for the Sept. 18 print edition.

How we in the news business do our work — especially the manufacturing of a newspaper — is rarely of interest or importance to you, our readers.

You want accurate, relevant, insightful information that is ethically gathered and honestly presented.

But sometimes publishing operations matter. With this page going to the printer on the afternoon of Thursday, Sept. 14 — hours before the UAW contract was set to expire and less than two days before the Detroit auto show was to open to the public — I’m trying to resist writing about those two events in this column. There’s just too much risk that whatever I’m thinking now will be overtaken by events that happen after the words are printed and before you read them.

It is what it is. Sorry, not sorry.

What I do feel comfortable writing about is the Automotive News Congress, which we held last week on the front lawn of Brewery Park, home of Crain Communications and its flagship business-to-business publication.

It was a lovely day under the big tent. The rain stopped early in the morning, and it never got too hot, cold, windy or wet. This is what we all dream of when we plan events in mid-September in the Midwest.

Of course, the beauty of Michigan in late summer is a blessing and a curse for the Detroit auto show. There’s been some hope that families will take advantage of the nice weather and double up with some other activity: maybe go to the auto show and a baseball game. But the problem is that there are so many things that could theoretically be part of a double bill that actually most people already have more than enough to do and would rather enjoy the outdoors before the long winter sets in.

Oh, dang — I wasn’t going to write about the auto show this week. Sorry. Not Sorry.

Jose Muñoz was one of the keynoters at our Congress. He rattled off the accomplishments of Hyundai Motor Co. and Hyundai Motor America since he’s been there working for Executive Chairman Euisun Chung, occasionally sprinkling in a few jokes.

With Muñoz, they’re kind of like dad jokes, but they’re really boss jokes — usually about the need for everyone to work harder or to do whatever it takes to meet the year’s goal.

Example: From 2020 to 2022, Hyundai brand sales in the U.S. increased 16 percent, propelling it up the charts from eighth place to fifth. “I’m really disappointed with the evolution. I think we should have done more and faster,” Muñoz said, grinning from the stage. “So we are in crisis mode.”

Funny. But if you work for him, maybe not funny?

Everyone knows that Muñoz became a star at Nissan under Carlos Ghosn, but many forget that before that he worked for Toyota, which has had so much success that top executives and other managers are forever trying to instill a sense of crisis to stave off complacency.

Of course, neither Hyundai nor Toyota held a press conference at the Detroit show this year.

Hyundai Motor Group — encompassing Hyundai, Kia and Genesis — which made almost half of the new vehicles it sold in the U.S. last year in Georgia and Alabama, does not have a unionized work force in North America. The same is true for Toyota, all other incumbent transplants and the EV-focused startups including Tesla. For all of them, the prospect of a UAW strike is a chance to gain market share.

D’oh! There I go again!

EVs are a challenge for dealers, especially as the market moves from the self-educated early adopters to more mainstream consumers, whose knowledge level is far less.

Some dealers have been quick to help customers install home chargers for their EVs, but not all of them. Diane Maher, president of retailer Fox Motors, said she was wary of extending the company’s reach in that way.

The company “didn’t feel like it was our role to tell a customer what they need to do for their garage” when it came to the installation of home chargers, she told me as part of a panel discussion on the future of auto retail. But “the customers don’t know what to do. So we had to adapt at the dealership level to try to become experts on that as well,” she said.

Damon Lester, owner of Nissan of Bowie in Maryland, said people who live in apartments don’t always understand how difficult it might be to access public charging, which isn’t available everywhere and is often out of service. And the charging that is available is often hoarded by inconsiderate users who will leave their car plugged in all day, rather than maximize community benefit.

How much do you drive? Where do you park? How will you charge your car’s battery?

“We urge consumers to ask those types of questions because many are not looking at EV ownership through that lens,” he said.

Shoppers considering an EV purchase might want to go to an auto show to see what’s on the market. At the Detroit show, they can ride in some on a test track, but they won’t see any EVs that haven’t been seen before: None of the four redesigned or freshened models revealed were electric.

Oh, shoot. Sorry about that.

Also at Congress, in response to a question from Automotive News Publisher KC Crain, General Motors President Mark Reuss made a considerably meaty comment on the state of the UAW talks less than three days before the contract was set to expire.

“We’ve made a lot of progress over the last few days, and I think the teams are doing this, and the give-and-take is really happening,” he said. “So we’re on a path.”

Reuss has been around, and he knows what he’s doing. He wasn’t trying to negotiate through the media, and he was careful not to say anything that would offend the UAW or otherwise jeopardize the talks.

But his words about the progress being made will carry forward as marking that stage in the talks, whether we have a quick peace or a long strike: Progress was being made and a deal was within reach on Tuesday afternoon.

By Thursday afternoon, it seemed less likely. How does it all turn out? Well, those of you reading this printed issue will already know if a strike was called or averted.

But however it turns out, we should remember for history’s sake that Reuss accurately shared that progress was being made and there was reason to hope for a resolution without a strike.

He said it at the Automotive News Congress. Not Sorry!

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