Chicago 2010: Product Specialists and Models Steal the Show

By George Straton

02.15.2010

CATA_A_2010-02-10_01 067_signFeb. 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.

CATA_B_2010-02-10_ (1)_Toy_VP _Sales_Robert_CarterIn 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.

CATA_C_2010-02-10_ (18)_Mustang_ShelbyGT_500KUDOS:

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.)

CATA_D_2010-02-10_ (35)_laura_arias&nicole_sylvesterTo 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.

CATA_E_2010-02-10_ (42)_Chevy_CruzeTo the several “product specialists”, who knew quite a bit about the technical niceties of the products, in particular the blonde woman  at the Chevy Cruze and  Aveo concept display.

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.

CATA_F_2010-02-10_ (39)_Ursula&VeronicA_FIAT500_modelsTo 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.

COPYRIGHT Autosavant – All Rights Reserved

Author: George Straton

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4 Comments

  1. The last ten years saw a big jump in the Chicago Show’s importance, new model intros, important news was announced, etc. But, that trajectory seems to have faded and now Chiicago is not as important as L.A. And it’s not even close to the Detroit and NY shows. It’s more like the Washington, D.C. Show now.

    Too bad. As a Chicago resident and a car guy, I was hoping the show would really break into the big time.

  2. The Chicago show flew high when trucks and S.U.V.s were the kings of the road because the automakers always considered the Chicago show to represent the heartland of America and the best place to introduce vehicles like that. Big, brawny trucks seemed to fit in with Chicago, and in the larger picture, the Midwest.

    Now it’s small cars, electric cars and hybrid cars, and Chicago isn’t so important a location anymore. L.A. will probably grow, and maybe San Francisco, too, if the technology companies there involved in the electric car stuff decide to throw the local show a bone or two in terms of new product introductions or announcments.

    I can’t see Detroit or NYC losing their positions atop the pile anytime soon.

  3. The debut of the re-freshened 2011 Toyota Avalon: boy, what a wild, crazy party that must have been. What a sexy, blockbuster car!

    The Chicago show was so quiet this year, it just came and went without much notice. It couldn’t have been too exciting since this post is up 5 days after you were there, right?

  4. I love the product specialists. Smart and beautiful and knowledgeable. And the sport of seeing twits try to hit on them only to get shot down with wit and aplomb . . . priceless.

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