If you didn’t already know what had happened here, you would think there’d been a nuclear war. As you drive west from the centre of Detroit in the snow and bitter cold, along Michigan Avenue towards Ford’s River Rouge factory you pass block after block after block of boarded-up store-fronts, their chances of ever reopening made improbable by the fact that the sidewalks are eerily deserted, and the houses on the side streets that once provided their customers are mostly abandoned, or burnt out, or have already been torn down. You are three minutes’ drive from the centre of America’s eleventh-largest city, but it doesn’t feel like the first world any more. It feels like the end of the world.

In 1967 John Lee Hooker recorded ‘Motor City’s Burning’, about the race riots that racked his adopted hometown that year. Some say Detroit’s decline began then, but it has plunged faster with the collapse of the American car industry since 2008. An estimated 230,000 jobs have gone in the last three years. Few of the car industry bosses who gathered in Detroit for the opening day of the motor show last month would have ventured beyond the few blocks that hold Detroit’s handful of luxury hotels and Cobo Hall, which hosts the show. They won’t have seen the devastation the car industry’s clearout is wreaking on the city that gave us GM, Ford and Chrysler, the Model T and muscle cars, the planes and jeeps and munitions that won the Second World War, and Motown records. But they wouldn’t have had to go far; the ‘blight’, as Detroiters call it, has eaten right into the heart of the city, with its empty, windowless skyscrapers and theatres used as parking lots. The motor city’s not burning, but dying.