Morning Glory At The Detroit Auto Show

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It’s 7:00 A.M.  I have two guys in front of me muttering in Russian about someone’s wife… someone’s mother… or it could be the new Ecoboost engine on the F-150.

The guy next to me is the same son-of-a-… who was snoring half the night. I am wearing a suit as a type this. An article of clothing which I never thought I would ever have to wear except for the proverbial wedding or funeral.

My fruit is plastic. My Danish is recycled bits of bread crumbs and corn syrup, and this computer I’m typing on has that blasted chiclet keyboard which makes me type an ‘e’ every time I need an ‘s’.

Damn I love it here!

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I am at the North American International Auto Show. Everybody who is barely an anybody in this business seems to be here. Editors, owners of automotive sites small and defunct. Half the journalists who no longer work for a publication still have their old name emblazoned on their media cards. While the other half worry about how to get a unique angle on stories that will be reported by every underpaid journalist and their dogged interns. The big guys will typically make a guest appearance with their most important relationships at their new model unveiling, while everyone else considers this a monster job fair for the chronically underemployment automotive journalist.

As for me, I am here for the kicks, the food, and to meet Eddie Alterman. 

After arriving at the new car bazaar in a gold 1999 Toyota Solara SE with a 5-speed, no sunroof, and a Toyota cassette player (SE for Toyotas back then meant ‘base model’ ), I had Michael Karesh of TrueDelta fame shepherd me off to the first big event of the evening. The launch of the 2014 GMC Canyon and Chevy Colorado.

And here it is folks…

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lqR0EzQ9gzg[/youtube]

To get to the point where I could post the video with only two heads in front of me instead of seventeen heads and eleven shoulders wasn’t quite easy. I had to say, “Excuse me!” in the nicest New Jerseyite fashion, stand on a small platform, and let one rip. And even that only cleared up a few square feet.

Then of course I had to offer a follow-up video for those who wanted to see GM’s new midsized truck close-up.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Og7E-vmi-GQ[/youtube]

With 1700 or so people at this event, I had to dodge two dozen Japanese journalists who were all adorned in Toyota apparel for this GM event, a variety of Latino presenters who apparently could rip through 100 words a minute in front a camera while simultaneously giving you a quick flash of an evil eye, and corporate attendees who had canned outlines of what to say and how to say it.

My first time out here ended up a visual train wreck… 

There were two saving graces I could look forward to in the evening ahead. The first was food, and the second was long, long waits until the next events.  You have to time these two priorities so that you have enough time to get the first loaded bus to the next car launch which meant, I ended up picking up two hor’ dourves of mini-shrimps and crackers, and head out to what I was told the “better” event of the evening. 

Mercedes-Benz. To a lot of folks out there, Mercedes represents a gold standard of automotive design and engineering. In the world of automotive journalists, they represent the best press junkets with food and drink that is usually more expensive than your thrift store suit. They are the schmoozers par excellence of this business and by the time I got there, all the important people in our business had loaded up on wines that were nearly the price of the average iPhone. 

The first I guy I saw was Dr. Z. Yep, the Dr. Z. I was so awestruck by his presence that I forgot to be a rude paparazzi and take his picture. So here’s an old Chrysler video for remembrance sake.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ykx3zuRhUjE[/youtube]

He was speaking with a couple of other people in a language that was not quite German, and not quite English. It may have been Finnish, or Norweigan, or God knows what else. For some reason, after the fifth or maybe sixth bottle of wine, I started thinking of Dr. Who and all the strangeness that revolves around people who give themselves the moniker Dr. along with a nickname. 

In the case of Dr. Z, he is simply smart as hell. I don’t know how, but for some reason the air seemed to be thicker around him. This was quite a good thing when he presented the new C-Class to the audience because that car is a snoozer. 

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The 2015 Mercedes C-Class is, nice. Not quite the type of car you dream of having when you hit the level of an established middle-aged manager at a moderately successful company. But nice… There was a long, long cadre of camera people with closer-up access than yours truly so please don’t blame me. Besides, you’re not missing that much.

Dr. Z did a great job, as you would imagine from his Chrysler era car commercials, except for one thing.

There was a point where he told the audience the following…

“I look forward to the day when Detroit becomes the Geneva of Switzerland.”

He was referring to the fact that Detroit is now in the midst of it’s bankruptcy, and that all great cities, from New York to Dresden, get the opportunity to reclaim their lost glory. He quickly got away from that line of thought, and went straight back to the recent successes of Mercedes for 2013, most notably the Mercedes CLA.

Unfortunately, there was more than a bit of resentment from the Detroit reporters who have become a wee bit tired of the well-meaning, but patronizing words from others who have given the same shoulder pat of support. When Dr. Z started talking about how Mercedes dealerships have become “exciting and entertaining” places for their employees, and how consumers were lining up to buy the CLA, one of my peers remarked, 

“Yeah, the consumers are marching straight to their Mercedes dealerships, single file!”

Other random remarks about the destruction wrought by Daimler to Detroit via Chrysler began to murmur to the surface, and then thankfully the big introduction happened. 

It’s a nice car. As Linda Richman of SNL fame would say… “No big whoop!” There is no verklempt to be had with a Mercedes model that has held the conservative card of the entry-level luxury segment for well over thirty years now. 

Within five minutes, the videographers were jockeying for position to offer their schpeels, and the news outfits that could afford a camera that wasn’t a part of their cell phone began to take enough pictures to make my Galaxy Note II lose it’s ability to focus for the next 10 minutes.

The Mercedes party afterwards had the food, and the wine, and the Dr. Z.  They probably did the best job out of the three automakers that evening. VW had their own “party” shortly afterwards, which consisted of their important executives being shepherded around town in Bentleys and the Detroit police threatening to “haul their f’n asses to jail” if they didn’t stop blocking traffic. Of course these remarks weren’t said to the executives. But a couple of young valet parking attendants who had about as much authority as a freelance journalist like me.

I didn’t drink much at the VW event even though there was a healthy biergarten variety to be had at the place. The conversations were nice. The music was loud. The southern version of German BBQ sandwiches apparently had no hot sauce and at around 10:30 P.M., I decided to get some rest. After a short drive to an economy hotel known as the Pink Palace, I went through a well lighted side door and got ready for the main event of the NAIAS.

The actual show…

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