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Narrating the Rise of Detroit’s Four-Wheeled Phoenixes

January 28, 2014

Five years after the U.S. auto industry survived a near-death crash, the restructured sector is thriving. Bloomberg News Editor-at-Large Keith Naughton, a Michigan native who has covered the auto industry since 1985, is reporting the turnaround through the eyes of the people who brought the industry back to life.
Bloomberg Detroit Bureau  Michigan
In December, Naughton chronicled Detroit’s car comeback through the prism of Chrysler’s Jefferson North Jeep plant, the only auto factory still entirely within the city limits. Reckoning to Revival: How U.S. Workers Defied History, Rescued Detroit’s Last Auto Factory — and Recovered the American Dream uses the revitalization of this single factory as the entryway to a broader industry story. The 12,000-word tale is the story of the company’s rebound from Chapter 11, told in 11 chapters.

Naughton, who joined Bloomberg News in 2009 after a 10-year stint as Newsweek magazine’s Detroit Bureau Chief, says he loves the auto beat, because “it’s a proxy for the American experience. It’s all about pride, ego, and ambition. It’s about big personalities, big risks, big failures. There’s something about the personality of the business that really reflects the brash, proud personality of the country.”

Naughton grew up in the Detroit suburb of Farmington, the son of a milkman and a bookkeeper, which made them “just about the only family on the block that didn’t get a discount on cars.”

Naughton focused on Chrysler’s Jefferson North plant in his December 12 special report because it told the larger tale of the industry’s rebound through the struggles and triumphs of the people who made it happen.

“Here was possibly the most profitable auto factory in the world, and it is located in really the toughest part of Detroit – an area riddled with crime and vacant homes and lots and boarded up storefronts,” he says. “That is the Detroit story. It’s always a struggle. That’s what unifies the two stories: Detroit the auto industry and Detroit the city.” The city, $18 billion in debt, is staggering through the biggest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history.

Personal stories bring Naughton’s articles to life. He describes the early days of the Chrysler bankruptcy, when the manager of the shuttered plant organized his skeleton staff for a hands-on landscaping project, so the grounds would not look wild and abandoned if the plant reopened.

Naughton quotes the second-generation autoworker seeking reassurance from his father, who years ago endured his own extended layoff. Readers meet the head of a Chrysler dealership that was squeezed out of existence; the pipe-fitter who heard of the plant closing only when he showed up for work on a Monday morning; the designer who “wiped the slate clean” to remake the once-dowdy Grand Cherokee.

For Detroit, the auto sector is a bright spot in an otherwise bleak local economy. You can bet Naughton will continue to drive great coverage of the industry. Buckle up and enjoy the ride.

Contributed by On Bloomberg, Bloomberg LP’s internal newswire.