Auto CEOs Wring Hands While Launching Vehicles At Detroit Auto Show 2019

Auto CEOs Wring Hands While Launching Vehicles At Detroit Auto Show 2019

Jim Hackett, president and chief executive officer, Ford Motor Company, and Herbert Diess, chief executive officer, Volkswagen Group, tour the Ford display at the 2019 North American International Auto Show. Photo by: Sam VarnHagen

CEOs are in the crosshairs of epochal and rapid developments in the global automotive industry these days, and their hopes and frustrations have been on display in abundance on the floor of the North American International Auto Show in Detroit during the press preview this week.

On the minds of all of them are a few things. The future of the U.S. auto market has turned bearish after four straight years of flat sales that, they fear, have only forestalled a downturn, while the sales cycle has turned even more tenuous elsewhere.

The Trump administration’s trade policies frustrate many, mainly because the uncertainty about how they will work out leaves these CEOs little choice but to pause instead of making new capital investments.

And while the Detroit auto show floor at Cobo Center is awash in new concept electric and autonomous vehicles, many of the industry chiefs assembled here are scratching their heads about how to find a market for EVs when gasoline is just $2 a gallon, and about how their companies are going to afford to lead in an autonomous-vehicle revolution that Silicon Valley is seeking to dominate.