By Peter M. De Lorenzo
Detroit. Back in 1989, when it was decided that the Detroit Auto Show needed to be remade into an Important Auto Show instead of the glorified dealer show that it had become, a moniker was created to convey that, and thus the “North American International Auto Show” was born. It seemed convoluted then, but the show has subsequently earned its prestigious reputation.
Detroit, bloodied and battered by bankruptcy as it is, remains one of the epicenters of the automotive universe and for the world’s auto manufacturers legitimacy is either rekindled or, as the case may be, established right here at Cobo Hall, each and every January.
But now that the global auto manufacturers and the ever-increasing media hordes understand that, we all need to move on. The show organizers need to get over themselves and call it what it is: The Detroit Auto Show.
By doing so they would willingly acknowledge the fact that this city can, in no way, shape or form be mistaken for Paris, Frankfurt, Shanghai or Geneva, but that Detroit has its own raw power in the global automotive space that’s well-founded and enduring. And the sooner the show organizers embrace it instead of hiding behind the ponderous “NAIAS” sobriquet, the better off we’ll all be.
With that out of the way, that the annual spin/schmooze-fest - aka the Detroit Auto Show – is upon us again is to be greeted with mixed feelings. Yes, it’s great to see all the manufacturers trot out their show ponies and endless new models replete with varying degrees of competency, and it’s always good to spend time with friends and colleagues who share in the spectacle that the show has become because it is, after all, first and foremost a spectacle.
But then again it’s there, right in the midst of the now reimagined Cobo Hall, where automotive executives - fortified with their glittering entourages of PR spin-meisters and shadowy bureaucratic functionaries - strut and fret for hours on the various stages, boasting of success and promising greatness, while steadfastly ignoring reality and too often sounding ridiculously tedious with their rote speeches and their ever more vainglorious pronouncements.
Beginning Monday we’ll be immersed in a seething cauldron of oratory excess, bombarded with tales told by allegedly intelligent people who will willingly veer into idiocy at the drop of a hat, generating spin that’s full of sound and fury signifying, well, not much of anything when it comes right down to it.
In other words, welcome to the Olympics of Spin. It’s also a display of automotive peacocking the likes of which has to be seen to be believed.
And the really sad thing in all of this is that the at times woefully pliant media dutifully scurries around hanging on every vacuous word, reporting the bluster as if it’s being handed down from Above, while clamoring for access to the executives, spurred on by their editors back at headquarters who, more often than not, don’t have a frickin’ clue as to what’s going on.
There’s that concept of access again, which I’ve talked about often in these pages. It’s the thing that defines the automotive media these days. Without it, they believe they’re ineffectual non-combatants, relegated to being mere Sideshow Bobs in the Great Automotive Circus, which is akin to a death sentence in their minds.
But why? And access to whom and for what, exactly? More spin? The really special double-secret kind of personalized spin, where execs actually pretend that they give a shit what a reporter thinks when all the while they’re mentally looking at their watches or looking for a “cut” sign from their PR attendant so it can be over? How pathetic and lame is that? More pathetic and lame than your wildest imagination can conjure up, I can assure you.
So then, what can we expect next week?
We can expect to see squadrons of German car executives regurgitate glowing sales numbers in their speeches while suggesting that everyone else in the building is somehow inconsequential and grossly irrelevant. This has been going on for years now, as they’ve elevated arrogance and annoying lecturing to high art. And in the course of all of this they will remind us all of how great they are at every opportunity, while reserving particular disdain for their direct competitors - especially their fellow German competitors.
To wit? Mercedes-Benz will tout how it beat BMW in the luxury sales race here in the U.S. as if it were the greatest occurrence since the invention of power steering. But does it mean anything? No. At least nothing positive. It just means that the Mercedes-Benz journey to image destruction continues, that’s all. Oh, and they will show the new C-class sedan as well, which now is as big as the E-class of just a couple of years ago. And they’ll show even more AMG models, determined to marginalize any accrued prestige that once hovered over the sub high-performance brand like a halo.
Audi will show a concept for a micro crossover that is said to telegraph the upcoming Q1. Audi will also tell us – and with a straight face no less – that crossovers are the new “sports cars” of the automobile industry. We will not be amused by this, trust me.
BMW will trot out its new 2-series Coupe and assorted M versions of its existing lineup, which has now grown to the point that we’re losing track, and losing the energy to much care one way or the other.
Porsche will unveil yet another iteration of its newish 911 sports car, this time in nostalgic “Targa” form, which marks the company’s latest attempt at extracting money from the Porsche faithful, or at least what’s left of them.
And VW will introduce a fantasy concept and other distractions to keep from reminding everyone that they’ve completely lost their mojo in this market. Talk about a company in desperate need of new ideas.
The Japanese car companies will be in the fray, too, of course. Acura is hoping that their all-the-technology-we-can-muster-all-the-time mantra will hide the fact they still really don’t have a clue as to who they are and what they’re supposed to be. It won’t. And a new TLX isn’t likely to change that. They can always show the upcoming NSX for oh, something like the 47th time, just to remind us that they’re not really brain dead.
Speaking of Honda, they will show the new Fit, which is likely to do wonders for their fading image. As if.
And Nissan and Infiniti will remind us yet again that they’re happenin’ car companies with lots to show and talk about. Except that the mind-numbingly stupid Nissan ad campaign of late has successfully guaranteed that they will not and should not be taken seriously, despite Carlos Ghosn’s ongoing “I’m King of the World!” rhetoric. And Infiniti’s rejuvenation as the Japanese Audi continues, whatever that means.
Toyota will bore us to death although they threaten to show a new sports car, which is after all, Auto Show 101 when you’re trying to make a splash. And desperate to shed its bland-tastic aura, Lexus will insist that we forget everything we’ve learned about the brand in 25 years and now consider it to be the Japanese equivalent of the BMW “M” and Mercedes’ AMG divisions. Sure, that will be easy, especially since escaping from reality has become an auto show staple.
Kia and Hyundai will each attempt to rejuvenate their “coming brands” status with new stuff, this after they’ve been harshly reminded that being the “coming brand” doesn’t exactly count for much when you can’t sustain it, or you rest on your laurels for three seconds too long.
GM will trot out the Cadillac ATS Coupe and the Chevrolet Corvette Z06 and the new Corvette C7.R racing car while they’re at it. The Cadillac should be handsome, because GM Design is incapable of doing crap. And the Z06 will remind everyone that the latest higher-performance iteration of the Corvette has the capability to humble supercars costing three and four times as much. Oh and by the way, when you can deliver the kind of performance that the Z06 boasts, any of you out there hoping for a mid-engined Corvette should just go sit over in the corner and be quiet now because it’s notgonnahappen, nor does it need to.
Ford will debut the production version of its new F-150 pickup truck, the No. 1 selling vehicle in the U.S. for almost four decades. Said to be lighter, stronger and better, we don’t doubt it will be for a second because after all, they don’t mess around with The Franchise over in Dearborn.
And of course, Chrysler being Chrysler, or rather Fiat-Chrysler now being Fiat-Chrysler - since an eleventh-hour deal was consummated over the break between the UAW and Fiat, which allows that mediocre waste of an Italian car company to permanently tap into the profits from the Jeep and Ram Truck franchises, all for around $6 billion or so total, the absolute Steal of the Century, by the way – I expect that The Great Sergio will be carried in to Cobo on a gilded throne by actors portraying Roman centurions, while waving to his espresso-fueled minions and the adoring media. Oh, and they’ll show the new Chrysler 200, as if anyone really cares one lick.
And here you thought it was just about showing off a few cool cars, didn’t you?
Tune-in next week for all the details from the Detroit Auto Show – gory and otherwise.
And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.