With more than 25 years of auto show attendance behind me, I think my favorite auto show moment came at the first Detroit Auto Show I attended in 1995.
The Ford display was the first thing I looked at at that show. The highlight of the booth was the 1996 Taurus. The design was shocking for its time, and Ford made a not-so-subliminal attempt to influence viewers' opinions by playing “You Are So Beautiful” on nearby speakers about every ten minutes. In sharp contrast to the flowing Taurus, Ford also brought the “Edge Design” GT90 concept. They also displayed the Triton truck concept, which was the next generation F-150 hiding in plain sight.
But cars and trucks weren't the only thing happening at that year's Ford exhibit. The Taurus display was staffed by SARCOS, the talking robot. SARCOS would banter with the audience every hour or so. For a short while, I actually believed that some artificial intelligence was processing the audience questions and producing SARCOS' witty replies. In fact, it was just a “man behind the curtain,” but SARCOS' realistic body motions gave the impression that there was some serious technology at work. Newer versions of SARCOS populate Ford auto show displays to this day.
SARCOS wasn't the only non-automotive technology Ford had to show that year. Around the display there were what I called talking heads, head-shaped glass sculptures with human heads projected into them that would talk about the cars. Somewhat creepy, but impressively high-tech. There was also an area where you could put on headphones and hear an audio system so advanced it seemed like the live sounds were coming from the same room. To this day I have never heard more astonishingly realistic audio reproduction.
This was also one of the few auto shows I've been to where actual engineers were present. I remember complimenting a Ford employee on the Integrated Control Panel, not knowing that Ford management had already turned against that design (as I learned in Mary Walton's book Car).
Though cars and technology have advanced immensely in the 16 years since, no auto show exhibit has wowed me more than Ford's from 1995. There was just so much there that was completely new. It convinced me that Ford had total command of design and technology and could accomplish just about anything. Isn't that what every good auto show display is supposed to do?
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