The Lighter Side of the Detroit Auto Show

Ford Focus being pushed onto display

High tech cars, low tech muscle

I can’t help it.  I’m getting excited about the upcoming North American International Auto Show, a.k.a. the Detroit Auto Show.  The press days begin a week from tomorrow and I have my press pass in hand, my hotel room reserved and my Amtrak ticket safely tucked away.  (That’s right, I take the train to Detroit to cover the car show and have ever since a particularly horrible, white-knuckled sojourn a few years ago in some of the worst winter driving conditions that I have ever encountered, but that’s a story for another time.)

In addition to the more serious reporting that I will be doing for my local newspaper, I like to blog about some of the lighter moments that I inevitably find at car shows.  One of those moments is pictured above.

Most of the cars are already on the display platforms before reporters are unleashed in the exhibition hal but at last year’s Detroit show Ford revealed some of the Focus models in its splashy press event in Cobo Arena first and then put them on display on the show floor afterward.  This is the kind of muscle that it takes to get a display car positioned just right. As part of Cobo Hall’s expansion and renovation, the arena is currently being converted into a two level display space to be used starting with the 2013 NAIAS. Ford will be using Joe Louis Arena, next door to Cobo and where the Detroit Red Wings play, for their press conference at this year’s NAIAS.

BYD sign

BYD sign looks nice enough . . . from a distance

BYD sign detail

Just don't look too closely

BYD has been appearing at Detroit shows for a several years now, though it seems no closer to marketing cars here than when I took these photos a few years ago.  Its tiny display area, wedged between General Motors and Ford, was easy to overlook but this incredibly poorly done sign stood out like, well, a neon sign.

Alan Mulally and Sergio Marchionne

If you're important enough, you don't have to wear a wrist band to get in

I noticed this detail long after I had returned home from the 2010 show.  Fiat had taken over Chrysler less than a year earlier and Sergio Marchionned was popping up everywhere at the press previews.  Ford was on a roll with popular new products and surging sales and Alan Mulally made a few forays out onto the display floor, as well.  Examining the photos, I had to wonder why Marchionne had to wear a wrist band to get in while Mulally didn’t.

Chrysler's 2009 display area

Chrysler's 2009 display area. Almost as nice as a shopping mall.

This picture is of Chrysler’s display area at the 2009 show.  The company had just taken a bucket of government cash to stay afloat and was about to undergo bankruptcy proceedings to reorganize its debt.  In an effort to appear humble, the company stripped its auto show display of any hint of excess:  No flashy Jumbotrons, no expensive set pieces, not even a lot of cars.  Most car shows at shopping malls are fancier than this.  They did show off a really nice concept car, the 200, which, unfortunately, isn’t likely to make it to market.

Chrysler sign falls

In a symbolic move, a Chrysler sign fell to the floor at the 2009 previews

This last image is of a Jalopnik story which ran that same year.  I have included it here because the show goer who was almost decapitated by the falling pentastar was me.  I had just passed under the sign when I heard a dull thud behind me.  I turned around to see that I had just missed being knocked senseless by one of Chrysler’s chintzy displays.  I am visible in the photograph to the right of the information desk.

With any luck the 2012 press days next week will produce similar memorable moments and I will be there to bring them to you on Cars in Depth.

Editor’s Note: Hopefully those memorable moments won’t involve objects falling close to Marty’s head.

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