2010 Detroit Auto Show Auto Maker Presentations About The Cars Not Dancing Girls and Boys (Well Almost)
Editors Note: This year the car maker presentations were almost what they were in the past before the excess' of unlimited budget and hords of "I am a car jounalist" types that the big three brought in to Detroit in the past... well thankfully almost no more...
Most "real car journalists" I spoke with at the show were relieved to not have to waste their time watching show biz take the place of a product only presentation...horray I say, I can get used to serious words from serious car guys...leave the fluff for Las Vegas
DETROIT, Jan 12, 2010 Nick Carey writing for Reuters reported that in more ways than one, the bulls have been missing at this year's Detroit auto show.
At the 2008 auto show -- back in those heady pre-financial meltdown days -- No. 3 U.S. automaker Chrysler drove a herd of Texas longhorn cattle through downtown Detroit to promote the latest incarnation of its Dodge Ram truck.
The event was the talk of the assembled media, but mostly because some confused bulls became demonstrably affectionate with their male companions in the street.
But bulls and bullish analysts are now in short supply.
"We're not going to be seeing copulating bulls in the street from Chrysler or Dodge anytime soon," said Rebecca Lindland, an auto analyst at IHS Global Insight.
Stunts like the indoor ice rink built by Mercedes-Benz Daimler AG (DAIGn.DE) in 2007 to showcase its lineup are also gone. Last year's show had a few vestiges of glitz, but was dominated by fear as No. 1 U.S. automaker General Motors Co [GM.UL] and Chrysler headed for government-funded bankruptcy.
This year is different. Fear has been replaced by guarded optimism that 2010 will be better with U.S. sales expected to stagger back to recessionary levels above 11 million vehicles after plunging 21 percent to 10.4 million in 2009.
But the Detroit show, which traditionally marks the start of the season to promote upcoming models, has been muted.
"This is a much more sensible show, really gearing to what people are going to buy," said Dave Champion, senior director for automotive testing at Consumer Reports magazine.
In one jarring break from the recent past, Fiat SpA (FIA.MI), which took control of Chrysler last year, was the only major automaker to bring in female models to pose next to its cars.
"The theatrical stunts that were a common feature at past auto shows are gone," said Doug Fox, chairman of this year's auto show and a Nissan dealer. "And I don't know if they will ever come back."
Denuded of showmanship, questions remained at the show about GM and Chrysler's prospects, while low-cost rivals Kia Motors Corp (000270.KS) and Hyundai Corp (011760.KS) plan to add to 2009 market share gains.
DEATH IN THE FAMILY
This year's show feels like there has been a death in the family. Indeed, GM killed its Pontiac and Saturn brands in 2009 and is selling Hummer and closing Saab. Those decisions left empty floor space that show organizers filled with "Electric Avenue," a hodgepodge of diminutive electric cars.
The center's basement for a second year contained a test track for hybrid and electric cars -- with a speed limit of 5 mph (8 km/h) and mandatory breath test for alcohol.
For many here, merely surviving 2009 was a good thing.
"There we were a year ago and things were just absolutely in this abyss of not knowing what was going to happen," said Mazda Motor Corp's (7261.T) North American CEO, Jim O'Sullivan. "This year... the brands that are here felt like they made the cut."
The rosiest outlook came from politicians, including U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat whose presence underscored the U.S. government's stakes in GM and Chrysler after funding their restructuring in bankruptcy in 2009.
"They naturally want to see how their investments are doing," GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz said.
After pumping an estimated $120 billion into the U.S. auto industry, U.S. officials waxed lyrical about its prospects.
"It's a renaissance. It's a rebirth," Pelosi said. Others here praised GM's progress, but Chrysler's lack of new products highlighted concerns over its ability to survive the next few years.
"I'm very optimistic about GM," said Mike Jackson, CEO of No. 1 U.S. auto retailer AutoNation Inc (AN.N). "I think it's going to be a great comeback story."
But he said of Chrysler: "They're going to struggle until this alliance with Fiat matures."
Kia and Hyundai were among the most optimistic here after trend-bucking sales gains in 2009 and touting advertising plans for the Super Bowl -- the biggest U.S. advertising event of the year -- in February.
J.D. Power and Associates analyst Jeff Schuster said the Detroit auto show would see fewer costly events but predicted that the pyrotechnics and stagecraft could stage a measured rebound with the industry.
"While I don't know that we'll go back to ... cattle down the street, we'll probably see something in between," he said. "We'll see a little bit more show as we recover."
But Fox said even if auto sales pick up, automakers find it ever harder to justify vast sums for little effect.
"The theatrical events are expensive and the public don't get to see them, only journalists do," Fox said. "Automakers are focused far more on return on investment now."
"The same goes for concept cars," he added. "If it doesn't have a chance of going to market, you won't see it here."