The current financial crisis facing the automotive industry has been relentlessly covered in the media, with some pundits seeming to take particular joy in the domestic car companies reaping what they deserve for having ignored shifting market currents and consumer demands over a long period of time. This of course ignores the fact that product lines and vehicle development follows a long course that is set out years in advance, making it difficult to turn things around quickly based on new market trends. The perception of these talking heads and poison-pen analysts seems to be that the current bailout of Detroit-based conglomerates is uncalled for, and that the market should decide which companies will live or die past 2009’s deepening recession.
While I am certainly no economist, I think it is clear that the troubles faced by American car manufacturers are in fact faced by all other automakers, no matter where in the world they may be headquartered. It is certainly easy to single out domestic brands thanks to their precarious financial position, but the reality is that there are very few organizations in the automotive industry that aren’t currently suffering from shrinking sales and lowered future projections. Even stalwarts such as Toyota are succumbing to the effects of a significant shift in the buying habits of consumers, especially with regards to their Lexus luxury division. Acura is also feeling a similar pinch, dragging down Honda’s overall bottom line.
What does this mean for freelancers? Even though it appears as though catastrophe has been temporarily averted for General Motors, Ford and Chrysler, the fact remains that fewer people are buying cars, and those who do decide to take the plunge may be more likely to buy used than new in order to keep their costs as low as possible. With millions of consumers hunkering down for what has been made out to be an impending financial nuclear winter, the effects of reduced spending will continue to snowball and in some ways reinforce some of the problems businesses will be facing over the coming months. Savings accounts might grow, but the corporate coffers of those selling big ticket items will certainly suffer.
With reduced spending by the public in general comes a ripple effect that will touch the secondary and tertiary segments of the automotive market – in a word, writers like you and me. As fewer vehicles are released and companies scale back their product development there will fewer words required to cover the new car industry. Does this mean that automotive writers are facing the prospect of a lean 2009?
Not necessarily. There are many other segments of the car business to cover that don’t center around the doom and gloom of new vehicle sales. Maintenance, for example, is poised to become a hot topic due to the increased number of car owners driving their vehicles past the point where they would have normally been traded in for a new replacement. Repairs, parts and do-it-yourself guides will jump to the foreground, along with articles centering on reviews of used cars – especially those dispensing advice for bargain-seekers and value-hunters.
As a writer, it pays to be aware of the trends in the niches that you choose to make your living in. We aren’t condemned to the fate bestowed upon the corporate behemoths dedicated to staying the course at all costs – our smaller operations make us much more nimble and reactive to change. Keeping track of shifts in client and industry behavior can save you a significant amount of hassle down the road, and help ensure a steady stream of uninterrupted work as you begin to investigate complementary income sources. It’s great to be focused on your chosen specialty, but make sure that your focus isn’t so narrow as to blind you to the bigger picture.