THIS weekend's West Virginia International Auto Show is a good time to reflect on the American automotive industry, which just five years ago was all but given up for dead.
But the vehicles have changed, the companies have changed and the customers have changed. This evolution reflects changes in economics and demographics.
The three top-selling vehicles in West Virginia are not cars, but trucks: the Ford F-150, the Silverado and the GMC Sierra. In fact, cars account for only one-third of the car market in the state as people here prefer the sport utility vehicle, commonly known as SUV. Truck and SUV sales may reflect an aging population that wants a vehicle that can handle the rugged West Virginia terrain.
The companies have changed. The top 10 cars list included two Toyota models and one each from Kia, Hyundai and Honda.
But all 10 models are made in America. Besides GM, Ford and Chrysler, American automobile workers also turn out Toyotas, Hondas, Nissans, Subarus, Mitsubishis, Volkswagens, Kias, Hyundais, BMWs, Mercedes-Benzes and Teslas. That's 14 different companies with plants in the United States. Buying American is easy.
The product has improved. The average age of a car in the U.S. is now more than 10 years old. In 1968, not many people were still driving a 1957 Bel-Air.
The customers have changed as well. While women have been buying cars in large numbers for decades, in recent years their attendance at auto shows is noticeably higher. The New York International Auto Show said 40 percent of its 1 million visitors last year were women, up from 29 percent just two years earlier.
The glass ceiling is being lifted. Millie Marshall took over the reins of the Toyota engine and transmission plant in Buffalo a few weeks ago. Jackie DeMarco is the chief engineer of the F-150, Ford's top-selling model. And Mary Barra is the CEO of GM.
Cars no longer are measured only by miles per hour but by miles per gallon. But people can get both. For example, Volkswagen said its Golf R can go from zero to 60 in 4.9 seconds and still average 31 mpg.
The automobile industry has adapted to a changing market. That is a lesson people in other lines of business can learn.