Auto Industry Would Trade Years With Consumer Electronics

LAS VEGAS -- One man's disaster is another man's lucky break.

In his kickoff speech at the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show, Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the host Consumer Electronics Association said 2009 was "the worst year in our lives, for many of us."

By that he meant revenues in the consumer electronics industry fell for the first time in 20-some years, even though unit sales actually increased. Specifically, revenues fell 7 percent even though unit sales grew 10 percent over 2008, according to a survey of CEA members.

"Even though we sold more devices in 2009, a glance at the balance sheet tells you 2009 is a year many of us wish we could forget," Shapiro said here Jan. 7.

How the auto industry executives in the audience, including Alan Mulally, president and CEO of Ford (F), must have inwardly groaned. That would have been a terrific year for the U.S. auto industry, compared to what actually happened.

U.S. auto sales fell 21 percent below a terrible year in 2008, to only 10.4 million. Per capita, auto sales were the worst since World War II, according to General Motors.

While GM and Chrysler went bankrupt last year, and GM shut down Saturn, Pontiac, Hummer and Saab, Shapiro said the CES had more than 110,000 attendees, and 330 new companies among more than 2,500 trade show exhibitors.

Mulally gave a keynote speech following Shapiro. He was relentlessly upbeat, but relentlessly upbeat is his style.

Ford had some good news to announce, including what's widely perceived to be a lead over its rivals in introducing new electronic gadgets including a new generation of the Ford Sync system. "Sync is selling Ford products," Mulally said in a quick interview following his speech.

Still, some of his colleagues must have looked around at CES and wondered if they were in the wrong business.

Photo: Ford