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The Lighter Side – Notes and Quotes

Automotive Industries takes a look at some of the more memorable happenings during the press days for the North American International Auto Show.

One disadvantage of Detroit’s NAIAS since it hit the Big Time: its three media days begin early Sunday morning. Bad enough for local scribes to give half their weekends, but thousands of media types winging in from all over the rest of planet have to travel Friday and Saturday. Detroit. In January! Whose idea was that?

Sequel on the Loose

GM’s Sunday morning press conference featured the company’s latest hybrid and fuel cell concepts. The latter, appropriately dubbed Sequel, rides on a third generation “skateboard” chassis containing all its powertrain and brains. make the point, the driverless, bodyless foot-high chassis glided onstage, like some overgrown remote-control toy, to a turntable midway between presenters GM CEO Rick Wagoner and R&D VP Larry Burns. How nervous was everyone involved that it would work as programmed? How nervous were Rick and Larry, who eyed it warily as it approached, and found its spot, without incident. Whew!

Hurricane Warning

Another exec nervously eyeing a potentially troublesome concept was Chrysler Group CEO Dieter Zetsche, who seemed poised to jump into the VIP seats if the insane 4-wheel-steer twin-Hemi Jeep Hurricane, twirling in place onstage on its own axis, ran amuck. It didn’t.

Bang the Drum … Forever

Audi opened its press conference with a guy beating furiously on a giant drum and closed it with a triple-tease reveal of its All-Road Quattro concept. A curtain saying “For All Perspectives” (drum roll) dropped to reveal … a curtain reading “For All Passions.” Which drum roll) dropped to reveal … a curtain reading “For All Ventures.” Which (drum roll) dropped to reveal … the car. Each curtain drop had hundreds of clicking cameras held high over the crowd.

Gary Copperfield

GM North America President Gary Cowger opened the Saturn press conference projected on a giant screen. It was unclear to most where he was. Soon, people began pointing up to a podium high over the stage on the display’s second level. “There he is,” they buzzed to each other. Suddenly, he appeared to jump from the podium behind a curtain and, a second later, drove the Saturn Sky roadster onstage. The audience gasped, then chuckled. How did he do that? Cowger is an impressive guy, but unless he’s superhero, a well-dressed mannequin took the plunge as he sat awaiting his cue in the car below.

Ferrari Serenade

Ferrari/Maserati’s small stand sat across from Toyota’s large one, and its high-buck cars were cordoned off during its press conference. With no available seats, a few hundred reporters jockeyed for position in the aisle and on the edge of Toyota’s stand straining to see and hear Ferrari’s pitch. But Toyota’s background music played loudly and incessantly in the background, drowning it out for most. After what seemed like 15 minutes of frustration and annoyed glances, someone on the Toyota stand took the hint and dialed down their music.

If it Walks Like a Truck …

Instead of the usual loud rock, Honda’s keep-the-media-awake pre-presentation music was what some might call “country/ rock/rap” by a new group called “Big and Rich.” Hmmm. Must be the new Honda pickup press conference. Sure enough, after expounding on Honda’s recent great success in selling trucks (Odyssey vans, Pilot and CR-V SUVs), Executive VP Dick Colliver introduced the new Ridgeline pickup, which he referred to as “Honda’s first truck.”

Double Lutz

GM’s Monday press conference saw GM North America Chairman Bob Lutz unveil the new C6R Corvette race car and Corvette Z06 and Cadillac STS-V highperformance street cars. But before discussing them, he said he had to come clean on one important issue: the need to groom his successor. “I’ve found one,” he proudly announced, as an identically dressed and silver-coifed clone climbed out of the STS-V. “This is ‘Bob.’ He attends 4:00 a.m. meetings so I don’t have to. He plays golf so I don’t have to.” The audience laughed and “Bob” smiled brightly as the actual Bob continued his presentation.

What’s in a Name

One reporter asked a Honda/Acura PR guy if there was any rhyme or reason to Acura’s product naming practice: RL, TL, TSX, NSX, RSX, MDX and … ta da! … the featured 2006 RD-X compact SUV. “Do these letters actually stand for something, like Cadillac’s and most others?” he asked. “No, said the PR guy. It’s just too hard to think up names all the time. ‘X’ means “not a sedan,’” he added helpfully. Except for the TSX sport sedan.

Repeat After Me

Some cynics were mildly amused by Suzuki’s pitch. The Suzuki “way of life,” it proclaimed, is to do cars for “Life Enthusiasts who do not view life as a spectator sport. We focus on people on the go, people on the way up, striving to be the best they can be, living life to the fullest.” How many makers don’t, and how many haven’t said so at one time or another? An hour later, newly appointed Mitsubishi North America CEO enthused that his products were targeted at “youthful and active people who want to get ahead,” etc., etc. Same speech writer?

Where’s the Beef?

Ford’s Lincoln-Mercury Div., hosting Monday’s 7 a.m. (!!!) press conference in Cobo Arena across from the show floor (plenty of seating for all) and knowing that media of all types are seldom known to skip a free meal, had the sense to provide an international breakfast. Chrysler, on the other hand, apparently canceled its Tuesday a.m. event … after the schedules were printed. Those who showed up bright and early found the seating gone, workers prepping the stand for supplier and public days and an apologetic rep as mystified as they were.

No Parking

For those media not staying in high-buck downtown rooms, there’s the issue of where to park. Those who show up really early might luck into one the few non-reserved spaces in, on or near the Cobo Hall facility. Otherwise, they drive ’round and ’round to find a spot blocks away and trudge through the cold and slushy snow. Or they can pay (triple the normal rate) in advance for “Media Parking” in the relatively close Joe Lewis Arena garage and ride nottoo- predictable shuttles. Those who made that choice arrived Sunday morning to find the garage closed!!! Seems they didn’t sell enough advance passes for Sunday so didn’t bother to open it.

Walnut Capuccino

The show hall during press days has become like a small Seattle as there seems to be a coffee shop on every corner, or in every OEM’s display. Early Monday morning, as one of the young barristas was setting up the Aston Martin shop, she opened a cupboard and came face to face with a squirrel helping himself to the biscottis. Needless to say, both parties were scared out of their respective wits. While the young coffee maker stayed on the floor, the squirrel spent the next few minutes scurrying around in the ceiling before disappearing out of sight.

Exhausting Performance

At an early Monday morning press conference, Ford chairman Bill Ford Jr. roared into Cobo arena in a 2005 Mustang convertible. He stepped onto the stage in front of a packed audience and announced Ford’s plan to launch several new hybrid models over the next four years, adding to Ford’s commitment to help clean the environment. Almost immediately after, the arena was filled with a throaty roar as eight Harley riders did figure-eights around the arena stage to help introduce the latest Harley Edition F-150, filling the arena with a (literally) choking cloud of exhaust fumes.

It’s Good to be King

Chrysler’s Dodge division grabbed most of the local TV coverage with the introduction of the new Charger. After Chrysler CEO Dieter Zetsche introduced the car, a Charger NASCAR race car drove onto the stage. A pit crew seemed to appear out of nowhere, changing the racing tires to street versions and lifting off the race car shell to reveal the production car underneath. Who better to launch the new Charger than NASCAR legend Richard Petty (who, by the way, won most of his races in a Plymouth, before switching to GM products in the late ’70s). King Richard joined chairman Dieter Zetsche and 2004 NASCAR rookie of the year Casey Kahne on stage, bringing both Dieter and Casey a trademark black cowboy hat and sunglasses. The scary part was that Dieter didn’t look that bad.

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