When we asked our readers what you wanted us to cover at the 2014 NAIAS media preview, one of the requests was about swag and perks. There was a time, maybe 10 or 12 years ago, when automotive press kits and related items distributed to members of the media at major auto shows were special enough and collectible enough that a decent number of literature and toy dealers would bring entire crews to those shows to get inventory to sell on eBay. The former communications director of the Chicago Auto Show would publicly bemoan the presence of what he called “press kit thieves” who’d manage to get past the credentials committee to get in the show and then out past security with boxes of press kits and cases of die cast models. There were so many things that would be collectible to car enthusiasts one could make a business out of it.
All I will personally say on the matter is that Budget had a great deal on the Ford Ranger pickup truck and that my grandfather, who was a junkman that dealt in paper and rags, taught me not to throw away things that others will pay you for them. That was then. Today, though, thumb drives have replaced CDs which themselves replaced hard copy press kits, and after years of financial difficulties in the auto industry, the extravagant giveaways of yesteryear are pretty much over, with at least one notable exception. At this year’s NAIAS, some companies didn’t even bother with thumb drives, they simply handed out cards with a web address for media information. Why bother with the expense of even a giveaway thumb drive when the same digital information can be distributed online at a fraction of the cost?
Chrysler is pretty much the only car company left that makes an effort to create special press kits, and while there are those who criticize the “Imported from Detroit” tagline approved by a French guy working for an Italian car company, some of the press kits for the Chrysler 200 (the ones marked “special edition”) contained a Pewabic Pottery ceramic tile embossed with that tagline and the Chrysler logo. Pewabic Pottery is a Detroit institution and it was founded over a century ago, part of the Arts & Crafts movement. I don’t know how much the tile would be worth on eBay but most Detroiters will think it’s pretty cool.
Another of Chrysler’s press kits appeals to me and not just because I’m a Detroiter. They gave out a press kit commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Chrysler minivan. When I opened it I was pleasantly surprised to see it included a pair of red-blue 3D glasses and that some of the images in the kit were 3D anaglyphs. Regular readers may know that I play around with 3D. When I work big car shows I give out red-blue 3D glasses as business cards for Cars In Depth, so it was neat coming across some 3D materials in the swag.
Speaking of 3D, it wasn’t swag but Nissan and Honda both were using 3D technology in their displays. Nissan had some virtual reality goggles using motion tracking for an immersive experience with the iDX concept and while there were many driving simulators on the show floor, Honda’s used a head mounted 3D display. Mercedes-Benz’s use of 3D technology might be a bit more practical, since they use a pair of video cameras as part of their driver assist and safety systems in their cars.
Chrysler’s last bit of swag was a key chain in the shape of a piston and connecting rod. Attached to the ring was a USB thumb drive (holding a digital Mopar press kit) in the shape of a key. It looks like key shaped thumb drives were a hit at the advertising specialties companies that service the automakers because Denso, Volkwagen and Cadillac also gave them out, the Cadillac thumb drive coming on a leather key fob with Cadillac’s new crest.
Other thumb drives were more conventionally shaped, though the Kia GT4 Stinger concept press kit came on a thumb drive shaped like the car.
The smart car press kit likewise came in something that looked like a smart car but according to the pretty lady handing them out many people thought they were novelty rubber erasers. The GMC Canyon press kit’s thumb drive swiveled out of a diamond plate holder.
The Corvette Z06 press kit was on a conventional thumb drive but befitting a limited edition Corvette, it had a special presentation.
It was packaged in a cardboard box, as for watches or jewelry and it came with three lapel pins, a Z06 pin, a crossed flags Corvette pin, and one of Jake, the Corvette skull mascot.
Chevy also gave out buttons and trading cards.
The Z06 was not the only American performance car getting its first auto show introduction. The 2014 NAIAS is the first time the all new 2015 Mustang will be seen at an auto show. Since only a limited number of people were present at the various live reveals last month the Detroit show will be the first time large numbers of people will see the new Mustang in person and Ford has an extensive display devoted to the car and its history. An upstairs section contains 50 years of Mustang memorabilia. It looks like some show goers during the public days will get the chance to assemble a snap-fit 1/24th scale model of the new Mustang coupe. They were so rare at the media preview that I haven’t seen any show up on eBay at all.
Part of Toyota’s reveal presentation of the Ft-1 is-it-the-next-Supra? concept was produced by Polyphony Digital (i.e. Sony) using the graphics engine of their latest release Gran Turismo 6. Not surprisingly, the virtual FT-1 is now available for download for GT6 players. Perhaps more surprisingly, Toyota gave out full functional copies of the driving simulator. The racing sim is probably the most valuable thing we got in terms of retail price but it’s pretty much worthless to me as I don’t have a PS3 console, or any gaming console for the matter.
It’s interesting that as mass manufacturers stop printing hard copy sales brochures, assuming that the hoi polloi have access to smartphones with bar code readers (and disappointing people who collect and archive automotive sales literature), some luxury marques still prefer the printed page. Instead of a barcode or even a cardstock brochure, Porsche gave out hardcover books on the new 911 Targa. Usually when a brand like Jaguar or Corvette gives out a book, there’s some history included, but the 911 Targa book is just an elaborate sales brochure.
Scion also hasn’t yet abandoned paper entirely. Working with artist Shin Tanaka, the Toyota brand gave out die cut paper toys that you can construct, assembling each of the cars in Scions line up.
If you have an Instagram account, you could also use a vending machine Scion set up that dispenses Scion tzotchkes in exchange for promoting the company via social media. I don’t have an Instagram account by the nice pretty lady worked the machine for me and I got a free hat, sort of a tradition at Scion. Scion has given out knit skull caps and baseball caps at the big auto shows since the brand was launched.
Some automotive vendors also use the NAIAS to have press conferences and Denso gave out PED rechargers at their event.
So that’s it when it comes to giveaways at the 2014 NAIAS. Before the domestic auto industry melted down, the New York Times popularized a cliche that went as follows, “you can tell how the domestic auto industry is doing by how big the shrimp are at the Detroit auto show’s media preview,” presuming that there would always be shrimp served up to the press by automakers, the only question was how big they’d be. For a number of years that cliche simply didn’t apply, but most car companies doing business in North America are now making money here and I noticed that crustaceans were being served by at least couple of car companies in their buffets. The car companies may be profitable these days, and the shrimp may be back at the Detroit auto show, but a confluence of factors means that the glory days of auto show swag are behind us.
Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS