Public relations people say the darndest things. Shills for the car companies that chose to speak to the press at the 2009 Dallas Auto Show were no exception. The folks at Chevy are still “excited about the Camaro” a full three years after they excitedly announced the product. What impressive stamina they have. Buick intends to “shatter the myth that Buick only builds sedans for old people” Good luck with that. Chrysler Corp. claims twenty-four new cars and trucks are under development. “If taxpayers can support us, we’ll have some sweet products for you to test drive.” Goodie, maybe I’ll get to drive another redesigned Sebring. That’d be super sweet! But the biggest story coming from the show is what the PR refused to talk about.
“We’re here to talk about product,” the Dodge mouthpiece declared. “Any questions ’bout the company will be referred to Corporate.” This was a common theme. GM’s hackles shot up when a writer asked whether the new Lacrosse would be marketed in China, where the interior and electronics were designed and tested. “We can’t comment on what GM plans to do or not do in China,” the PR hack tersely said, cutting off the questioner. The phrase most oft uttered at the Ford, Buick, and Dodge press conferences: “We’re not prepared to comment on that.”
Other automakers simply didn’t even bother to speak to the press at all. This year’s itinerary of scheduled press conferences was only six manufacturers long and concluded by lunchtime. In recent years we have heard from Toyota, Cadillac, Nissan, Lexus, Hummer, Aston Martin, Saleen, Infiniti, Honda, and Subaru. All of these manufacturers were all present at the show (except Saleen); they just had nothing to say to the press corps.
Furthermore, the first two press conferences, Ferrari and Lamborghini, weren’t press conferences at all. The media assembled at the Ferrari display but there was no presentation so everyone dissipated. It wasn’t until later that I realized that one of the individuals gathered there was actually a soft spoken Ferrari rep. Ditto Lamborghini. Don’t the Italians have anything to tell the public about their cars, how their product is evolving, and all of the rest of the PR drivel that is communicated in a proper press conference?
But enough of all that. Here are the 2009 DAS winners and losers:
Winner: Buick Lacrosse. I’m not saying that this car will save Buick or GM or that it will even sell well. But The General certainly put his best spit-shined boot forward with this car. American styling built by Canadians on a new European developed platform with Chinese innards, this is truly an international car. The car bests Buick wannabes from Toyota and Lexus with dynamic styling and matches them with an outstanding interior. If this car drives half as well as it looks, it could be a contender. Buick claims to be in the midst of a “design renaissance.” That bit of hyperbole might actually be true.
Loser: Acura. Would somebody light that car a cigarette? The grille blighting every new Acura has the expression of Iron Man aglow in post-coital ecstasy—not something I want to see.
Winner: Ford Taurus SHO. Ford designer Earl Lucas shows that Americans can design a mature and subtle executive’s performance sedan. The car possesses the power and elegance of an NFL linebacker in a tuxedo. The D-sized sedan had the press mob drooling on the SHO’s exclusive Atlantic Green paint.
Loser: Chevrolet Camaro. The car is beautiful. The power is impressive. The price is right. The timing is awful. Look for the 2010 Camaro to makes its debut later this year. Its launch coincides with Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, the sequel of the movie that it starred in two years ago (along side the lovely Megan Fox and the dopey Shia LaBeouf). The Camaro has been so prominent at auto shows and in GM advertising for so long that it’s already due for redesign.
I sat on the front row in the Buick press conference admiring the contemporary look of the 2010 Lacrosse. As I did so I realized that GM could not have produced a car of this caliber ten years ago. Neither could Ford. Life or death competition has forced these companies to break from many of the lazy and lardy practices of their past.
It might be too late for GM to right its ruptured and sinking ship, but the positive and constructive influence of free market pressure is in full display in their latest products. On the other hand, Chrysler remains distinctly unimproved. For every one thing they do right, they are doing five things wrong. This is about the same ratio of incompetence that they operated under two decades ago. No amount of marketing spin masks that.