The 2008 Dallas Auto Show. Yes, Dallas.
My personal highlight of Last year’s Dallas Auto Show was watching Sajeev work his magic on GM’s regional marketing director. He’d met her at the Houston Auto Show some weeks earlier, where they’d had a productive conversation. Apparently the Powers That Be within GM didn’t think that was a good idea. She was talking gaily with other scribes when we approached her. When she turned to greet us, her face darkened the moment she recognized the dashing Mr. Mehta. Visibly agitated, she hissed, “I can’t talk to you,” spun on her heels and scurried away. After a moment of stunned silence I asked TTAC’s lonely lothario, “Do you have that effect on all women?”
My, how I do love telling that story. Sadly, work commitments kept my friend, Don Juan Mehta, in Houston this year. So I flew solo at the 2008 DAS.
To put things in perspective, the press preview day at the DAS draws about twenty print journalists and a couple of local TV crews. Meanwhile, the press preview for the North American International Auto Show in Detroit lasts three days and attracts some 6000 media people from around the world. More than one-hundred new products were “revealed” at NAIAS. I counted one at the DAS. Celebrities, industry big wigs, and politicians vie to be seen in Detroit. In Dallas, all I saw was a small group of aging, overweight, balding, vertically challenged, writers wearing sensible shoes.
While less of a spectacle, the intimacy of the DAS provides far greater access to the objects that we’re all there to see: the cars. Aston Martin would never allow thousands of clamoring critics crawl all over their lusty DBS. Yet they are perfectly willing to permit twenty of us to sit behind the wheel and fantasize about violently ordering all 510 horses to the rear wheels, stat!
A few moments of solitude behind the wheel of the DB9 Coupe found me awed by authentic interior materials and old world craftsmanship. The aluminum instruments and bezels are actually aluminum, not plastic (plastichrome). The clock crystal is crystal, not plastic. Wood accents are really wood, not plastic. The headliner is suede, not plastic. The leather upholstery is leather, not plastic (vinyl). The sense of luxury was so powerful that I forgave the car’s narrow foot wells and niggling ergonomic design flaws.
With Aston Martin still fresh in my mind, I wandered to Cadillac and sat my butt in the XLR-V. The home team didn’t fare well in comparison. Despite the marked improvement by GM’s flagship brand, it’s clear how far Caddy still needs to go before it has a truly world class interior.
While both marques employ leather, AM’s cows certainly have a better dermatologist. I suppose it’s unfair to compare an exclusive hand-built car to one rolling off a mass-production assembly line. But GM chose to play in the $100K end of the pool and right now they’re in over their heads.
The only hint of controversy on the day came at the Hummer press conference. I meekly asked how Hummer planned to combat the rising drumbeat of accusations that the planet is being ravaged by enormous gas-guzzling SUVs, of which the H2 is the poster child. “Or is Hummer content to say ‘screw you’ to the rest of the world.” Okay, maybe that part of my question came out a little harsh.
Like a seventh-degree judo black belt, GM’s mouthpiece, a third-tier marketing manager, skillfully parried the question and deftly avoided giving me anything interesting to write about-– some unapologetic diatribe about customer satisfaction and that their customer’s don’t care about being perceived as gluttonous.
My surprise came from the woman who stepped up beside me. To the satisfaction of Mr. Goodwrench, she began a vigorous defense of Hummer, citing its excellent fuel economy relative to others in its class. At first I thought the interloper was another GM hired gun. But the shabbiness of her appearance confirmed that she was, in fact, another journalist. I wouldn’t have minded her input if a group of us were having drinks and sharing war stories. But I was at the press conference to hear what The General has to say, thank you very much.
Perhaps this is further evidence of the enmeshed relationship between automotive news makers and the [supposed] watchdogs in the press corps. Or maybe this was just a run-in with a mad old cow with an irrepressible impulse to rudely butt in and speak for companies with whom she has no affiliation.
And thus ended another DAS press preview day. I left with a bag of swag (including a jar of Super Hot HEMI Powered Barbeque Sauce), a camera full of hi-res pix, and memories of a few new cars for cubicle daydreaming, both mine and yours.
[ Click here for William C. Montgomery's DAS Pixamo photo gallery ]
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