TTAC readers, like TTAC writers, go everywhere. On Day One of the Detroit Auto Show, I happened to run into one such fellow, accompanied by his lovely wife. This reader had been invited to attend “The Gallery” and had also received passes to the media days at the “regular” show. I asked him to write up his impressions and share them with all of you… so without further ado, let’s hear what he has to say.
Sunday evening featured a dinner prior to The Gallery opening, which was hosted by Wolfgang Puck in the Ignite lounge at the MGM Grand. The food was, of course, fantastic, and Chef Puck signed autographs, took pictures, and chatted pleasantly with everyone (he drives an Escalade, for the record). If you were paying attention on Monday, you might have seen him browsing around the auto show itself. Anyway, we had a bit over an hour to eat our fill before heading over to The Gallery, which was in a ballroom reached by God’s own escalator at the MGM Grand. Seriously, it was huge! A fitting metaphor, for as an auto enthusiast that needs to work for a living heaven was at the other end of it.
The Gallery was a dream come true for two people who are neither automotive professionals nor independently wealthy. This was a chance to get up close and personal with some very exotic cars in a way that you could never do in “real life”. The Gallery event featured an unveiling of the new Bentley Continental GTC, a car destined to be much sought after by rap stars and footballers the world over. It was, in truth, a nice enough car, though my wife remained unmoved. “Too stodgy,” she said. “You should have seen Bentleys 20 years ago,” I said. They also had an “unveiling” of the Lambourghini Aventador, which I put in quotes because the car was already available before this event. I’ve always loved Lambos for the sheer ballsy-ness of them, and the Aventador follows suit there beautifully. Maserati had three cars on display, two of which you couldn’t open, which is a shame since they of all people should be actively recruiting those that can get themselves into an event like this, lest they opt instead for a 760, S600, Panamera, etc. After all of the Great Washed were inside the crowd was about 500 or so. Dinner had been great, the liquor was free, and there were hideously expensive cars and the pretty girls that come with such things scattered about the hall. I’m not sure if its mission was accomplished, whatever it was, but my wife and I had fun, and that’s all that really matters in the grand scheme of things.
For my wife’s money, the nicest cars at The Gallery were the Aston Martins. You see them in pictures or James Bond movies and they look nice enough, but pictures don’t really do them justice. In the flesh they are truly special – gorgeous lines, top-shelf materials (now that the Ford parts bin is off limits again), and just the right combination of class and sportiness – what British luxury sport motoring should be. They are high-end sports cars that you could really live with day-to-day. I’ll agree with here there – Astons are a rare breed and a rare bird, since you almost never actually see one in the wild. On that same note, she also really liked the Ferrari FF and California because they looked like cars you could actually live with, as opposed to a Lockheed Skunk Works project like the Aventador. Though my eyes were drawn to the flashier entries in the gallery like the Lexus LS-F and the Aventador (I am a guy after all), I would have to agree that the Ferrari California or an Aston Martin would be my choice if I ever actually bought a car in that rarefied air. There is something to be said for practicality.
One thing you asked us about was whether we felt any sales pressure at The Gallery event, and I can honestly say no, we didn’t. Of course it is also possible they had us pegged as poor relations of more prosperous guests – like the high-end watch and jewelry salesmen that were also present, they can separate the wheat from the chaff in 30 seconds or less. There were representatives there to answer questions, and I’m sure they would have taken an order should you have cared to place one, but I think the idea was to put exotic vehicles in front of an audience that can afford such things and let the magic work from there. Everyone knows Mercedes, BMW, Porsche, and Audi – you see then everywhere. Many know about Range Rover, Jaguar, and Bentley – they are more rare, but you’ll see them in the wild. Are there people with means that would never consider walking into a Ferrari dealer without having seen one up close before? Probably – I can think of a few people that fit that description. At any rate, if the mission was to put the idea of these more exotic vehicles in the minds of potential customers that might never have thought of them on their own, then mission accomplished.
I’ll not go into detail about Sunday’s final event, a short fashion show hosted by Neiman Marcus at the V nightclub, except to say that more free drinks, cage dancers, fashion models, and drunk VIP businessmen made for a late night indeed. My wife and I managed to make it back to Cobo at about 10:00 am Monday and spent the rest of the day at the show. Here now is a layman’s guide to press day at the auto show:
1. Every auto maker ended 2011 on a high note.
2. 2012 is slated to be even better.
3. The foreign marques stressed how important the US is to their business (probably true).
4. Every automaker stresses how green, free-range, and organic their vehicles/factories/etc are.
5. The girls at Smart were very knowledgeable and helpful. Shame about the cars, though. The concept Smart was kind of cool.
6. It’s nice that most automakers try to dress up their presentations, because in general they are boring as hell. The Germans deserve particular mention here for having the best engineering and some of the most desirable cars coupled with the sort of monotone you remember from economics lectures.
7. The German makes serve the best food.
8. Kia actually cares whether you are press or not and the cheap bastards will deny you a soda over that fact.
One interesting feature of the show was the opportunity to test-drive electric/hybrid/hydrogen/whatever else cars on the lower level at Cobo. Neither my wife nor I had ever driven electric cars before, so it was a nice experience. My wife fell in love with the Nissan Leaf; I’ve tried to tell her it isn’t very practical with us living 30 miles outside the city, and one day she might actually listen to me. Yeah, right. For my part, the hydrogen-powered Mercedes B-Class seemed a much more practical choice, except for the completely non-existent hydrogen delivery infrastructure. And the less said about the Volt, the better. Thank God you, me, and everybody else are paying people $7500 per to buy the wretched thing. Or not, as apparently the General can’t even give them away.
Mercedes-Benz and their rich uncle Maybach are also worth a mention. The Maybach rep was interesting in the sense that if you didn’t already know Maybach was being phased out you would never guess that from his presentation. TTAC and its readership have been hard on Maybach, and not without reason, but I will say that the interior is truly breath-taking. People can complain about the platform (old S-Class), but that sort of misses the point – it is meant to be the most exquisitely appointed interior this side of Rolls Royce, price be damned, and it certainly is that. If you don’t think that is worth $400k, then you can’t afford it anyway, or so they figure. At neighboring Mercedes-Benz, the new SL63 was striking, though whether strikingly beautiful or not I’m not certain. It certainly seems to have been engineered to within an inch of its life, but I would worry a bit about durability. It’s probably not a Ferrari-style garage queen, but Lord save you if you do need to fix anything on it. I would say that means you can’t afford it, except it is quite shocking how many people buy high-end cars like that without realizing just how spendy they can be at service time. I’d probably wait a couple of years for the epic depreciation to bring the car down to a reasonable price point, but that also misses the point entirely. People that can afford a car like that don’t generally worry about such things. Here’s hoping someday I won’t have to care either.
I’ve been to my local auto show several times (tiny), and Chicago a few times (pretty big), but the Detroit show has spoiled me for life. Everything is done on a massive scale there, with very elaborate displays and tons of room. Cobo is massive, to the point that my wife and I gave up on trying to see everything. We made a point to see the Germans (we both liked the Audi Q3, and I’ll take a 7-series in white, thanks), Ford, Lexus, Infiniti, and Hyundai. We skipped GM entirely save for GMC, and glanced at Dodge in passing. That probably says something, but I’m not an industry professional so I don’t know what it is. We talked about Cadillac not being what they should be and trying to be BMW instead. They’re failing at that, but they’ve plenty of company in Lincoln (wanna-be BMW), Buick (Lexus), and Chrysler (?). What the hell is a Chrysler these days, anyway?
All of this is a long way of saying that it was interesting to see how sausage is made. Everything there is scripted to the point that it must be nigh-impossible to get a candid word from anyone, though the reps at The Gallery were a bit more forth-coming. The food and hospitality are mostly good (save for Kia). It was an experience that most people don’t get to have, and we’ll never be able to go to our local auto show ever again. I’m oddly OK with that.