It was a gorgeous autumn Sunday in New York City last September when the world stood still.
Walking through Times Square I noticed workers at Lehman carrying their belongings in cardboard boxes out the front door.
A day later, the failure of the financial giant sent tremors around the world. We havent stopped shaking since.
Credit, the lifeline of the auto industry, evaporated. Consumer confidence plunged. Sales tanked. Dealers closed. Nothing was certain anymore -- for anyone.
We are at a defining point in the industry this newspaper has spent 13 years covering. Where we end up by the end of this year may be a world away from where we start 2009. But one thing is clear: Things wont get better unless we change the way we think.
Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne told us in December that consolidation is inevitable. But it goes beyond that.
In the coming year some fundamental changes have to be considered.
The Financial Times was clear-headed when it delivered its own call for EU fiscal prudence last year. Here are a few more ingredients.
-- Environmental technology has to continue to be at the forefront of everyones plans, even if the price per liter continues to tumble.
-- Excess capacity must be trimmed. Cheap credit created an environment that was unrealistic. Some automakers (Ford) took the necessary steps to keep production in line with true demand and that must be sustained.
-- EU politicians should immediately help companies cope with the credit squeeze, freeing up lines of credit. Without credit, many dealers and partsmakers will die.
-- Mergers must be an option. Protecting jobs to keep national industries alive will only distort car-sector consolidation.
Business as usual is hardly usual anymore. These days, uncertainty casts a shadow everytime we believe something is certain. Bankruptcies are expected. Anything is possible.
Dont believe it? There is talk of renewed interest from Gulf investors in European automakers. Indian companies are broadening their European footprint. The Chinese are on the doorstep.
Upside down is right side up. And I remember that sunny day in September.
It seems long ago.