Global Investing

This is not your father’s Detroit auto show

January 11, 2009

Whither Kid Rock? Where have you gone, Chef Bobby Flay?

With automakers struggling with the worst U.S. sales in 16 years, production cuts are also extreme for what used to be the industry’s biggest coming out party for the U.S. market — the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. What was once THE U.S. show to unveil the latest flashy cars is now a place where industry officials speculate who will survive and what cuts will be next. It’s all happening during the media preview days Sunday through Wednesday.

General Motors and Chrysler, recent recipients of billions of dollars in bailout funds from U.S. lawmakers, cannot justify spending tends of thousands of dollars on flashy dinners and skits, or stars like Kid Rock (above, from last year) and Eva Longoria, who were guests of the respective U.S. companies in the past.

GM in years past also held a “GM Style” event at which top athletes, actors and musicians like Kid Rock and Jennifer Hudson appeared to help show off the automaker’s cars and trucks. Chrysler earned a reputation for flashiness over the years with the use of suck gimmicks as the herd of cattle at last year’s Dodge Ram pickup truck introduction. The automaker, whose future survival is now regularly questioned, also has used such stars as Flay and Longoria.

Among the automakers that will not even have booths at the media preview days at this year’s show are Nissan, Subaru, Suzuki, Land Rover, Porsche, Ferrari and Mitsubishi. Japan’s Honda is in Detroit, but is not holding any press conferences.

One positive with all the new elbow room is automakers consigned in the past to the smaller, lower floor at the convention center in Detroit now get to move up and see what all the fuss was about. Hello China’s Brilliance Auto!

When asked about the Detroit show’s future, independent auto consultant Erich Merkle said:

“Auto shows are like pizza to me. I’ve never had a bad one. I’ve had some that are not as good, but I’ve never had a bad pizza and I’ve never had a bad auto show.”

(Photo/Reuters)

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