By on April 17, 2017

Toyota Test Drive Track at NYIAS, Image: Twitter by New York International Auto Show

Walking through Brooklyn, your humble author was confronted by a sign on a building that said, “We stay awesome 24/7, but we are only available in person,” followed by the company’s business hours. There are two ways to view that sort of arrant idiocy. The first is to shrug one’s shoulders and just chalk it up to the sort of cutesy, infantile, Millennial-focused marketing that has turned Brooklyn from a place where my mother was actually shot at in 1970 merely for wearing her Women’s Army Corps — but Mommy’s neither one of those, I’ve known her all these years! — Class A officer’s uniform to a sort of supervised playground for losers whose sheltered ineptitude has combined with the realities of a flaccid job market to suspend them in kindergarten gaffa until the parents run out of home equity with which to sustain them.

(That’s quite a sentence there, ain’t it? You won’t get combinations of Cheap Trick and Kate Bush jokes in Motor Trend, trust me.)

Alternately, you can be a bit more perceptive and/or distrustful about the whole matter. You might take it as a sign of a corporate culture where employees are, in fact, expected to “stay awesome 24/7,” where everybody is judged on how infrequently they have an incorrect thought, even when they are off work. We’re rapidly approaching a day where we are never truly away from our jobs. You can be fired from your job for simply saying something that people don’t like during your private time; several years ago I had a public Facebook argument with two car-magazine writers that resulted in one of them calling my day job and making a “special request” to have me fired. (He was told to get stuffed, by the way.)

In other words, we now live in a world where corporations expect to have the kind of control over reality that was once just the nightmare imagination of George Orwell. Everything is now “curated,” which is a nice way of saying controlled. And that, in a nutshell, is why most of the “New York auto show” did not actually happen at the New York Auto Show.

2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon - Image: FCA

By all accounts, the final revelation of the Dodge Demon was a triumph of the corporate will, an utter masterpiece of public-relations drama. I wouldn’t personally know; I was still driving to New York at the time so, like most of you, I saw it on Instagram. It was no surprise FCA knocked this out of the park. Not only is the Demon an utterly stupendous technological achievement that demonstrates a rare courage of conviction on its manufacturer’s part, it was also built by an automaker whose ability to shock-and-awe at auto shows has become auto-industry legend. Sometimes Chrysler’s stunts worked spectacularly (Grand Cherokee THROUGH A WINDOW!) and sometimes they did not (herds of aimless cattle defecating copiously on the street in freezing weather while bumping into brand-new Ram trucks), but they’ve always been larger than life.

Note, however, that both the Grand Cherokee and the RAM introductions happened at the show. In fact, everything that you might want to see or witness happened at the auto shows — until about five or six years ago, when a few automakers started holding private previews for the most important and/or tame journalists in the business the night before the Detroit Show opened. From the perspective of a PR person, doing this is the proverbial no-brainer. You get to “curate” the experience from beginning to end. This often means haranguing your attendees with a 45 minute presentation on culture or sustainability prior to bringing the product out, kind of a sustained vegetable-eating on everyone’s part before the ice cream arrives.

Holding your event off-site also allows you to control who gets in, although this is less a matter of keeping the TTACs and Autoextremists of the world out and more a matter of ensuring that the major outlets get a seat up front so they can report the “news” just the way you’ve written it. Last but certainly not least, by throwing in some drinks and a perhaps a B-List performer into the mix (Dodge had Elle King of “Exes and Ohs” fame) you make the media feel they are guests rather than reporters. This changes the way they will report on you, because most people were taught by their parents to treat their hosts with courtesy and respect.

In the case of the Demon preview, all these moving parts came together just like they were supposed to. In terms of volume and profitability, the big Dodge was probably the least important major reveal at the show — but thanks to some sleight of hand and some careful curation, FCA was widely acknowledged by the media to have “won the whole thing.” A good time was had by all. Everybody was a winner.

With that said, I do not care much for the idea of an auto-show future in which the manufacturers don’t really bother to come to the auto show itself. We don’t have much, if any, independent reporting left in this business. This will kill what remains of it. FCA didn’t do it this time, but it’s very easy to conceive of a day when a bit of negative reporting on a Grand Caravan’s transmission will cause your media outlet to be mysteriously unwelcome at the Demon press launch. (For the record, TTAC didn’t receive an invite to the Demon party in New York. An FCA rep also asked why one of TTAC’s writers hates Alfa so much. Since when did reporting the facts become hate? —Ed.) It only takes a couple of missed “scoops” like that to knock you off everybody’s browser-bookmark list. Who could survive the most rigorous application of a “curated” system like that, save for the most fawning and feckless outlets?

This isn’t a train that anybody is going to stop. It would take a combined media boycott to stop the automakers from doing their “auto shows” away from the auto show. Good luck with that. No, I’m afraid the future looks more manufacturer-friendly than it’s ever been. Nothing we can do about it. Good luck, everybody. And stay awesome. 24/7.

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32 Comments on “No Fixed Abode: They Paved the Auto Show, And Put Up An Exclusive Preview...”


  • avatar
    Corey Lewis

    The Alfa Romeo billboard perched over the Toyotas is nice.

    “You, down there! Are you having too much utility and reliability? Try out an Alfa Romeo!”

  • avatar
    JimZ

    I bet that company has “Customer Happiness Specialists.”

  • avatar

    As long as there are TTACs and Autoextremists to keep out (Peter wasn’t impressed with the show either), there is hope for the Autojourno world.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    OK, I’ll play devil’s advocate:

    Given that auto shows are usually packed with a bunch of (generally unwashed) folks, having a night that’s “media only” – or some off-site event – makes some sense. I mean, seriously…if a Corvette at an auto show is surrounded by 25 gawkers who are lining up to spend 45 seconds in the driver’s seat, how long would the line for the Demon be?

    It costs money for automakers to put these shows on. They’re not designed as journalism seminars – they’re designed to sell cars. I get why automakers would want to control the message they send out, given all that.

    Now, what the media does with their “special” time is up to them, I guess. Like Jack says, some reporters are going to play ball and live it up on a corporation’s tab. Some will be as honest as possible. Some just won’t play the game. I like that TTAC tends to fall into the last category.

    • 0 avatar
      npaladin2000

      The auto show itself has “media only” days for unveilings and such. That’s what was going on all last week.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        And I really don’t see the horrible issue with that.

        1) It’s their show, paid for by them.
        2) They want to show off their cars to the press.
        3) How does the press get any decent coverage of the cars while they’re surrounded by 120 people who are waiting in line to sit in the driver’s seat for 32 seconds?

        • 0 avatar
          npaladin2000

          I don’t have an issue with it either. Since all the automaker money is put into a pot so to speak, that pot being the NYIAS, it’s not like one automaker is putting on a special show just for the press. It’s NYIAS instead. The journalists feel less obliged to a particular automaker that might be putting on an event.

    • 0 avatar
      WheelMcCoy

      Also playing Demon’s advocate… I mean devil’s advocate, much of the general public, instead of visiting show rooms all over town, attend these shows to get info about various cars in one place. They are not necessarily looking for breaking automotive news; rather I’ve seen them assess trunk space, play with the dash, and get a feel of the rear seats. They use the show to create their short list.

      But likewise, I appreciate that TTAC is not flown out, put up in a hotel, and fed well to write up the good stuff and down-play flaws. Consumer Reports and the NY Times also conduct themselves similarly, putting them in good company with TTAC. :)

      • 0 avatar
        Salzigtal

        I’m there because most of the cars are in one place and the salesmen are across town at their dealerships. I’d feel even safer if their was a moat around the Convention Centers (SF & SV).

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    (For the record, TTAC didn’t receive an invite to the Demon party in New York. An FCA rep also asked why one of TTAC’s writers hates Alfa so much. Since when did reporting the facts become hate? —Ed.)

    Poor FCA. They must think they’re GM. Don’t talk crap about the X-bodys or we won’t invite you to the new Corvette unveiling in 1985.

  • avatar
    npaladin2000

    I loved that Toyota imitation of Camp Jeep. It really effectively illustrates the difference between Toyota (fuctional, reliable, bare bones, uninteresting) and Jeep (outdoorsy, interesting, unique, substantial).

  • avatar
    caltemus

    The 1992 cherokee reveal was a good watch. Seeing the new vehicle scramble up the stairs leaves more of an impression on me than the fake-dramatic pulling of a sheet.

  • avatar
    LS1Fan

    Media outlets may as well auction their “Road & Track” type magazine vehicles directly to the automakers willing to pay for the ad copy, and dispense with the veneer of “impartiality”.

    That way the customers actually get close to impartial criticism of cars- built by whoever is the competitor to the magazine’s patron,of course. We’d see critical reviews of BMWs (by Motor Trend, subsidiary of Mercedes Benz) followed by the same on Mercedes’ (by Car and Driver, subsidiary of BMW Media Group).

  • avatar
    Caboose

    @Jack, Very subtle way to give juice to Autoextremists. Nice.

  • avatar
    bkojote

    I’d give the first paragraph, complete with its run-on sentences a D-. Maybe you should stop by during business hours and see if they’ve got a copywriter who can come up with a more nuanced take on the Ohio chip-on-my-shoudler worldview.

    But hey, maybe 1973 will come back, along with real men who will make flyover country great again. You never know.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    Has there ever been a time where saying something people might not like couldn’t get you fired?

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      no, but “before” you usually had to say it at work, to someone you worked with (or for.)

      • 0 avatar
        ElAntonius

        The big difference being the permanent record and the “anonymity” that people feel they have on the internet.

        Slagging off your employer at a bar when your boss was 2 seats over was never a good idea, but for some reason people feel OK to wing whatever they want onto Facebook (a company whose very revenue model depends on you being “findable”) and immune to consequence from it.

        I remember seeing a service department employee at a dealership, who had a public account, always posting the “hot” cars that came through, and how he was “taking care of” that “baby” today. Not a good look. I was unsurprised to see him gone in short order.

      • 0 avatar
        DirtRoads

        Another good reason to stay the hell off social media. After leaving MySpace for FB, I dropped FB years ago and have never looked back. Today I wonder why the hell I ever thought it was a good idea?

        Now you even have to have FB to play games and get better prizes. Screw that.

    • 0 avatar
      Salzigtal

      Outside of Don Rickles’ career, no.

  • avatar
    Troggie42

    Jack, how could you affix such a lofty letter list assignment to Rob Schneider’s daughter? Surely, she’s C list at a very optimistic best.

  • avatar
    Flannery

    “For the record, TTAC didn’t receive an invite to the Demon party in New York. An FCA rep also asked why one of TTAC’s writers hates Alfa so much. Since when did reporting the facts become hate? —Ed.”

    This explains another site’s bootlicking of the Quadrofoglio. Basically calling out all the flaws and then claiming that they are part of the car’s “character” and what makes it great.

  • avatar
    ToddAtlasF1

    “It only takes a couple of missed “scoops” like that to knock you off everybody’s browser-bookmark list.”

    Are there really that many people who obsess about regurgitated press-releases so much that they’re drawn to them over insightful commentary? I am depressed, depressed I tell you.

    • 0 avatar
      Sam Hall

      Yeah, personally I don’t care if TTAC has to wait a week or three to have a piece up about whatever new sled. I’ll read it and enjoy it. What I skip are the Autoblogs of the world that get ‘scoops’ by lightly rewriting press releases (or just quoting them in their entirety–do the people who write press releases go to some special school to learn to be that boring?)

      What’s really killing the car review blog/website, at least for me these days, is YouTube. In a video, you can hear the sound levels inside the car and see its features operated, not just described in print. If you have five cars on your short list, video reviews can knock 2-3 of them down before you spend time test driving and putting up with the sales troll.

      • 0 avatar
        npaladin2000

        Yeah, honestly I get a large proportion of my car news and reviews from channels like Roadshow and TFLCar rather than blogs and “print” websites.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    “your humble author”.
    .
    WHAT ?! WE WANT JACK ! .
    .
    “Mommy’s neither one of those, I’ve known her all these years! — Class A officer’s uniform to a sort of supervised playground for losers whose sheltered ineptitude has combined with the realities of a flaccid job market to suspend them in kindergarten gaffa until the parents run out of home equity with which to sustain them.”.
    .
    Better, MUCH better .
    .
    “and sometimes they did not (herds of aimless cattle defecating copiously on the street in freezing weather while bumping into brand-new Ram trucks)”.
    .
    This would have gotten my attention when I was a Dairy Farmer, maybe it was meant for ‘ flyover country ‘ ?.
    .
    Carry on then .
    .
    -Nate

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