Chicago 2010: Product Specialists and Models Steal the Show
By George Straton
Feb. 10, 2010 was a day of many firsts. My first day at any auto show as a member of the media on a media day. My first visit to the Chicago Auto Show, the granddaddy of them all in North America, in 20 years. (The last time I had been there, the exhibition was in the old McCormick Place East on Lake Michigan). And it seemed a continuation of a new trend towards downsizing in terms of exhibit presence, size, content, and staffing.
Gone are the days when concept cars truly appeared of a design and substance 20 years before its time. That role has been left to the biennial Global Shows at Geneva and Tokyo.
According to media veterans the manufacturer addresses and displays simply lacked the “to the brim” media attendance of yore.
Perhaps part of the mood is the anesthetizing effect of Toyota’s recent safety issues. In fact the Toyota debut [of the 2011 refreshed Avalon] drew the largest media collection simply in anticipation of the vaunted company’s remarks on the recent voluntary recall announcements. Surely the refreshed Avalon couldn’t have drawn that crowd on its own.
In the voice of Bob Carter, VP of Sales at Toyota US, you could sense the company’s frustration with its current predicament. Carter emphatically insisted that in vehicles where stuck acceleration has not manifested itself, even the cars affected by the recall notice are still considered quite safe to operate. He stressed the need for drivers not to pile floor mats atop each other. Notwithstanding the same, Toyota is charging forward with a mind-boggling 50,000 pedal replacements per day at dealerships, several of which have their service departments open 24/7.
At that rate the accelerator pedal issue should be corrected in most of the affected vehicles within 4 months. Carter suggested that some significant sales incentives may be announced by Toyota in the near future.
Several manufacturer reps simply shrugged their shoulders given the downsized presence. The sentiment echoed by veteran media types was “It’s the economy, stupid!
One manufacturer’s rep privately stated that the exhibit fees they charged by Chicago’s McCormick Place simply cannot be justified. They are double those of the next most pricey convention centers and the show is not even an OICA (International Organization of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers) event.
Rather than harp on the ubiquitous such as the debuts of the largely re-designed (as opposed to all new) 2011 Toyota Avalon, Chevy Silverado, and Ford Edge, the special editions such as the Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 and Nissan 370Z 40th Anniversary Edition and the Kia Ray gas-electric hybrid concept a quick mention of kudos is in order:
To Toyota for picking up the ball and charging down the court.
To Ford for having actual engineers on site to answer technical questions… like “Why are the air intake runners on the SHO’s 3.5-liter DOHC motor not as elaborate as on the Gen. I SHO? (Answer because Forced Induction and Direct Injection provide more than sufficient air flow into the combustion chambers.)
To VW for having faith in diesel powerplant (Blue-Tec) technology as the economical and proven solution needed to reduce our excessive dependence on petroleum, despite the fact that diesel engines make their way into a mere 10% of annual US private vehicle sales.
To BMW for actually sending it’s Product Specialists, not models, Laura Arias & Nicole Sylvester to the Performance Driving Center in Spartanburg, SC for several days of track training on several cars including the M3.
To Audi NA for its espresso bar/ biergarten, which matched the Mocha Brown R8 5.2s on display.
To Nissan/ Infiniti, a last minute entry, for showing up at the 2010 Chicago Auto Show, after skipping last year’s.
To FIAT, which had the good sense to place these attractive twins (Ursula and Veronica) in white on the FIAT 500 plug-in turntable. When asked if they were “product specialists” they emphatically and proudly proclaimed: “No, we are models.” But each knew plenty about the vehicles, including battery types, charging times and range. No doubt several of us male media members became a bit dizzy watching as they steadfastly rode the circling round and round, answering questions and posing for photo-ops.
Finally, kudos to Hyundai, which despite raking in record profits, has the good sense to keep the bottom line down on its new Sonata, which is quite reminiscent of the Gen. IV Lexus ES sedan at half the price and the new Tucson.
At this year’s show, the subdued tone forced by the economy and a lack of much new-product news from most manufacturers led to a fairly quiet time at the show. Yet, it was an enjoyable change of pace for me, and it was good to talk cars with others who shared the same interest. Next year, maybe we’ll see a few more product announcements to go with the product specialists.
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