It was a day unlike any other in early January 2000, as any car enthusiast would know--this is the beginning of the auto show season, and for purists it doesn’t get any better than the North American International Auto show.
For a kid growing up in Northern Ontario, I never thought I would make it to the famed Cobo hall, but in five short hours the Detroit border would be crossed. The excitement that led up to this moment was overwhelming. I was finishing my final year of design school, and my thesis was to design a car, and what better place to experience the automotive industry but in the Motor City Itself?
What made this day even more intense is that it was a press day, not yet opened to the public, I was lucky enough to score some passes through my school. Everywhere you looked there were cameras, reporters and journalists, and it was awesome.
The initial experience was overwhelming; I compare it to my first time in Las Vegas, so much to look at and difficult to focus on one thing. I remember many things from that trip, but a few things stand out. What make this type of show awesome were the launches, and being one of the first to see a new vehicle concept was a great feeling. The entire hall goes quiet, as you approach the booth for the unveiling.
On this particular day it was Chrysler that was in the spotlight with an anticipated production version of the PT Cruiser. The two-door concept car finished in a metallic yellow gold color was released a year earlier to rave reviews. On this day the production model would be introduced. The room went silent as the CEO of Chrysler takes to the stage; he approaches a podium, with a small table in front of him. A spotlight focuses on the table which has three small objects covered in drapery.
He begins his speech talking about this new interesting model. He slowly begins to unveil three 1/35-scale versions of the car, although his exact words escape me, he ends his speech by commenting that, one can’t launch a new vehicle without some cool special effects. He then removes a cigar from the inside of his suit pocket, lights it, and blows a smoke ring over the three 1/35 die cast versions, while at the same time unveiling the real versions exactly matching the 1/35-scale models behind him. The crowd roars in applause and I was nearly blinded by the camera flashes.
As the crowd begins to migrate to other booths, an announcement is made that the Press Kit for the PT Cruiser is now available. This brings me to the second thing that makes being part of a press day so exciting. When attending a typical auto show, you may walk away with a cool new brochure, maybe even a poster. On this day the press kits were amazing, and for this launch if you were lucky enough you walked away with a copy of same three 1/35-scale die cast models used in the launch. Although I was never really a huge fan of the PT Cruiser, I still have my set of mini PT Cruisers.
What I remember most about that day was the excitement level. Typically the auto shows that tour around Canada and the U.S. are dealer shows, and unless you live in a major city you may not get an opportunity to even see a new concept car in person. I believe these shows need to be more about the brand experience, create excitement and education about new innovations like green cars and bring more attention to the new crop of North American-built models.
I’m extremely excited to see companies like VW, Kia and Hyundai open new manufacturing facilities in the U.S., not only creating jobs, but creating new vehicles that we can all be proud of. With the technology available today I believe there great potential to bring the auto show experience to every dealer.
I have been too many auto shows since then, but nearly 12 years later I still remember that day at Cobo Hall
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