Posted by Joe Maxfield
DETROIT (AP) - The streets of downtown Detroit will be free of
cattle this year, and there won't be any Jeeps flying through the
windows of the convention center.
With the entire auto industry suffering, and Chrysler LLC and
General Motors Corp. on government life support, this year's North
American International Auto Show will be a much more spartan affair
with fewer elaborate displays, less glitz and none of the crazy
headline-grabbing stunts of past years.
"Those kinds of things, it's not the right year to do those,"
said Doug Fox, who runs several Ann Arbor-area car dealerships and
is co-chairman of this year's show. "The money just isn't there to
be spent on those things."
Several prominent automakers, including Nissan Motor Co., are
completely skipping what has been one of the world's most important
That doesn't mean there won't be news. More than 6,300
journalists from around the world have signed up for the three
press preview days starting Sunday, about 100 more than last year.
Many will be reporting on Detroit's economic woes and the auto
sales slump that has hit nearly every manufacturer.
So far, the automakers have committed to revealing 50 new
models. That's down from 58 last year, but show organizers say
there may be some surprises in store to boost the number.
Among the headliners are a new version of Toyota Motor Corp.'s
Prius gas-electric hybrid and Honda Motor Co.'s hybrid Insight,
designed to compete with the Prius in the race to gain the gas
Chrysler will highlight new technology in its electric vehicle
prototypes, while Ford Motor Co. will unveil its electric vehicle
strategy and GM has promised a big surprise to take advantage of a
worldwide stage Sunday.
"I cannot think of a more important, more newsworthy press
conference at any auto show for any car company in the last 25
years of doing this kind of work," said GM spokesman Scott
Fosgard, who declined to give details of what's planned. "No one
company is going to have the world's attention like GM at this
Last year, Chrysler drove 120 cattle down the street in front of
Cobo Center convention hall to promote a new version of its Ram
pickup truck. In previous years, it has crashed a Jeep through the
lobby's plate glass windows.
But this year, with the Auburn Hills-based company forced to get
a government loan to stay alive, there won't be any stunts, the
signs marking its exhibit will be smaller, and a wall of water that
spelled out "Jeep" with droplets is gone.
"In the new reality, our press event this year will be more
straightforward, reflecting our need to run more efficiently during
a tough environment," Chrysler spokesman Rick Deneau wrote on the
company's Web site this week.
Also gone will be expensive food for the press, and displays
will be scaled back, said Jim Hall, managing director of 2953
Analytics of Birmingham, Mich.
"Giant spreads of shrimp, Coney Islands at General Motors, a
lot of the expensive-to-set-up and expensive-to-tear-down stands,
press conferences with multi-lingual translations," Hall said of
what's been cut. "It's going to be back to the cars and the
GM, which also is taking government loans, eliminated thousands
of square feet of elevated flooring and will merely have carpeting
over concrete, focusing more on product and less on glitz. It also
got rid of the second story of its massive display area.
Most of the cars GM is highlighting will be on turntables, but
there will be fewer vehicles on display.
Timothy Peters, the Detroit automaker's assistant director for
auto shows and operations, said he knew in early 2008 there would
be less money for the 65 auto shows GM generally attends each year.
Instead of spending 100 days setting up for the Detroit show, GM
spent 70 days, saving labor costs.
Some of the materials being used for the GM display have
changed, with the company using modular aluminum components for
faster installation. A modular design also saves space on trucks
and weight when it comes to shipping.
But some automakers that still have cash are keeping the glitz.
Toyota still has an elevated floor, while Ford's exhibit, seen last
week, looked unchanged from the previous year.
Missing, though, are some prominent automakers, most notably
Nissan Motor Co., which announced it was pulling out of the show
last year because it had no new models to introduce. Also missing
are Mitsubishi, Porsche and Suzuki.
But Fox, the show co-chairman, said some exotic automakers, such
as Lotus, Morgan and Caterham, have taken part of the vacated space
in the main exhibit hall, while others, such as Volkswagen, have
expanded their displays. The show also will have a driving track
for electric vehicles in the basement that will run by ponds with
waterfalls and a forest of about 100 Michigan trees.
Fox said automakers have scaled back on everything from
construction costs to spokesmodels, but they have done so in a way
that the public won't notice.
"You're still going to have the most elaborate displays of
anywhere in North America with observation decks and food service
and refreshments," he said.
Fox said downscaling might be a trend, with the industry
emphasizing vehicles instead of show business, and that might not
be a bad thing.
"That's the way these shows started, and now we're kind of
going back to those roots," he said.
Despite Michigan's shrinking auto-dependent economy and
nation-leading 9.6 percent unemployment rate, Fox said he is
confident attendance for the public part of the show from Jan.
17-25 will be up this year over last year's 700,000. Admission
prices, at $12 for adults, are unchanged from past years.
"We're trying to offer more value, and we think that with
people staying a little closer to home, we are hoping and expecting
higher attendance," Fox said.
AP Auto Writer Kimberly S. Johnson contributed to this report.
On the Net:
North American International Auto Show: http://www.naias.com
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)