There's an ongoing squabble between Chrysler and the apparel and gifts firm Pure Detroit over trademark issues -- and what is actually meant by the word "Detroit" -- that seriously misses the point of what both companies are trying to do. It's time for a mediator to step in, rather than a judge. I would like to volunteer for the job.
It started when Pure Detroit started selling stuff with Chrysler's ad tagline, "Imported from Detroit," which debuted for the car company during the 2011 Super Bowl. Chrysler sought a cease and desist order, arguing that the proceeds of its branded merchandise were going to charity and Pure Detroit's sales would cut into those donation dollars.
Now Pure Detroit has counter-sued, charging that most of the vehicles Chrysler has been promoting under the "Imported from Detroit" campaign aren't actually made in Detroit (just the Jeep Grand Cherokee is) and that the company is based in Auburn Hills, not Detroit.
Seriously? Hey fellas, we are trying to engineer a bit of a renaissance here. Get the lawyers out of it.
I live in Ann Arbor and work in an office in Birmingham, though the editorial offices for The Huffington Post Detroit are in the city of Detroit. I am often asked about where I live and what Detroit is like by my out-of-town friends. Here is what I say, and I hope that it doesn't offend native Detroiters (I was born and raised in New Jersey):
"Detroit is really a giant triangle that starts from the city of Detroit, goes about 30 miles north to Auburn Hills where Chrysler is, and then angles down about 55 miles to Ann Arbor, and then about 45 miles east back to Detroit. Dearborn, where Ford is headquartered, is about 10 miles from downtown Detroit. I think of the whole triangle as Detroit."
Now, we all know that Detroit is a city unto itself, and that all the suburbs included in my triangle are the towns people left Detroit for starting nearly 50 years ago.
But to me, the assembly plants in Wayne, Dearborn, Sterling Heights and Detroit are all part of a Metro family. And those are just the assembly plants. The engine, parts, tool-and-die and vendor shops in that triangle are all part of the Metro job-creating family as well. The Ford plant in Flat Rock and GM's plants in Lansing and Flint are the cousins of our Metro Detroit home, as are all the shops, plants and offices that serve the auto industry in Michigan. Hey, and let's not forget that Nissan, Hyundai, Toyota and Honda all have big facilities in our triangle. When it comes to know-how in the auto industry, even the foreign companies know where to set up shop, if not assembly plants.
I know. I sound corny, especially for a guy who grew up out of town. But, for the record, I came here in 1998, left to go back to New Jersey in 2004, and returned in 2006 because I missed the place. When I had an opportunity to come back to Michigan, I grabbed it.
We who like it here are trying to communicate to a skeptical world that Metro Detroit is not the hellhole some paint it to be. If we limit our definition of Detroit to the city limits, we will hurt the city's chances of a comeback, and confuse the message we are trying to send to the outside world.
When a company chooses our triangle to set up shop, we ought to embrace it. Provided it's good, we should buy that company's stuff and support the local economy -- whether it's Fiat's purchase of Chrysler and forthcoming expansion back into downtown; GM and Ford vehicles; Element Electronics TVs in Canton; Warrior Sports in Warren; the Detroit Beer Co. in downtown Detroit.
And for the record, it is not a sin for a Michigander to buy a Toyota, though it won't help our local economy as much as buying a locally-made Ford, GM or Chrysler. The Toyota Camry was engineered and developed in Ann Arbor, and though it is built in Kentucky by non-union workers, it has more domestic content proportionate to its sales than any other vehicle in the U.S., according to Cars.com's analysis.
I'd be willing to bet that I could sit Chrysler and Pure Detroit down and negotiate a deal to end the litigation, and make both sides happier than they were when they started.
And one of my aims would be to walk Chrysler to an even better implementation of its "Imported from Detroit" campaign that would benefit even more Detroiters. The company has already done a lot since its 2009 bankruptcy, and I'd like to see it do even more. It's worth saying that the Europeans working under Fiat's ownership of Chrysler have been far better Detroiters than Cerberus Capital or Daimler-Benz ever were.
Pure Detroit's mission is noble too, but it hasn't been perfect either; Pure Detroit T-shirts are made in the Dominican Republic and Peru, according to the Free Press.
Court records show both Chrysler and Pure Detroit have been trying to agree on a mediator. And a settlement conference was held Feb. 7 without success. Again, I will offer my services free of charge, though a donation to the St. Andrews Breakfast program in Ann Arbor and the Gleaner's Community Food Bank in Detroit would be most appreciated. I come to it with no dog in the fight except a desire for both sides, plus Metro Detroit, to declare victory.
If we start excluding Sterling Heights, Warren, Auburn Hills and even Ann Arbor from what we think of as Metro Detroit, we don't stand a chance in changing our hopeful reality, as well as the perceptions of others. At the same time, Chrysler and Pure Detroit can, and should be driven, to do a better job of staying truer to their claims and missions, and to complement and support each other.
But "...The first thing we do," said the character in Shakespeare's Henry VI, is "kill all the lawyers."
Grand Blvd. is a weekly column about cars from David Kiley. For more of his writing, and everything about cars, head over to AOL Autos.
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