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It's me doing a little posing while taking a break at the Ouray, Colorado Jeep Jamboree in 1995.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Notes from the Chicago Auto Show

 
I'm heading into day two of media days at the Chicago Auto Show. My affection for auto shows hasn't increased from this experience. Auto shows are a necessary (and more than a few would even argue that point) evil of my profession. You do get to hear about some new product. In this case the reveals included the 429-hp Hyundai Genesis 5.0 R spec, the redesigned Acura TL, and the 550-hp Camaro ZL1 with its 6.2-liter supercharged V8 and six-speed manual tranny. I'll take one of each, please.

There were seven manufacturer press conferences in all yesterday. This is not a big number by any yardstick. McCormick Place, home of the Chicago show, is a huge, magnificent complex and the ideal venue for a show. If you looked at a map of the manufacturer exhibits, you would see that they occupy two halls separated by a wide concourse. Four press conferences were in one hall and the remaining three in the other hall. Of course the media-day planners couldn't schedule the press events in each hall one right after the other. Nope, we had to schlep from one hall to the other like so many ping-pong balls – back and forth, back and forth.

Every time we reentered either hall, we had to stop and have our press credentials scanned and whatever bags we were carrying searched. So we had the Hyundai press conference in one hall followed by the Volkswagen conference in the other hall. We than returned to the first hall and the Acura press conference that was staged right next to where the Hyundai conference had taken place 30 minutes earlier. But like so many lemmings, we dutifully herded from one hall to the other and then back again. This went on all day.

Well acquainted with the auto journalist's credo "Eat free or die," several of the auto manufacturers invited journalists to dinner. I was a guest of Kia. Chrysler, Mazda and GM also hosted dinners. Kia chose, what is reported to be, Al Capone's favorite lunch spot for its splash. The joint is called Gioco. Not a huge place, you could almost imagine Capone sauntering through it on his way to the back room where he dined. The food was exceptional and the wine flowed.

Regardless of where we ate, we all gathered after dinner at a downtown blues bar called Buddy Guy's. Several of the carmakers and other entities participating in the auto show underwrote the evening. Closed to the public, the place was filled with the music of a live blues band. Food and drink were all complimentary. It was a blast.

Several of us decided we were ready to head back to the hotel around 11 PM. Our ride back was a full-sized motor coach. The driver was a 50-something black man who took his choice of music for our entertainment very seriously. When I asked who was singing a particular song, he rolled his eyes and said, "The Temptations! You don't know the Temptations; where are you from?" I told him South Carolina to which he simply replied, "Hmph."

The CD began skipping during the next track. He stood up, opened the door of the cargo hold right above my head and extracted the CD. Producing a soft case filled with other CDs, he announced to the other two journalists sitting in the bus that he was going to find something to further educate those from South Carolina. He chose a George Benson album. As the first song played, I decided to poke him a bit and asked, "Are these black fellas singing?" "Black fellas!" he replied, "It's George Benson. You don't know George Benson? I'm not believin' this. You don't know the Temptations; you don't know George Benson. I'm going to have to do some educating of ole South Carolina here."

Once another dozen or so journalists boarded the bus during the next 10 minutes, we made the short ride to the Sheraton where we are staying.

Today's show schedule is designed for social media. I have no clue what that means. But the carmakers, I guess hoping that at some point they can avoid paying for advertising because they will have battalions of tweeters and bloggers tweeting and blogging about their products, and the industry as a whole are going out of their way to cater to these people.

While we "traditional" journalists must produce all manner of evidence of our work being published and read in order to be considered for inclusion on manufacturer programs, these tweeters and bloggers just need someone at a car company to receive a tweet or blog from them. There is no way to quantify their effectiveness, but the carmakers are happily kicking real journalists to the side of the road to make room for people who think "OMG, this car is the bomb!" is journalism. 

The one piece of networking I wanted to get done on this trip I accomplished at Buddy Guy's. I used to be invited to every press event Chrysler had. I haven't been on one of their car launches now in two or three years. Chrysler's head of media relations is at this show. Dodge made a big splash yesterday, announcing its refreshed series of R/T models. We ran into each other at Guy's. We spoke about how long it's been since we've seen each other. I remarked that it was because I couldn't seem to buy my way onto a Chrysler trip any more. The first words out of his mouth were: What are you doing; where is your stuff appearing? "For the love of God, Rick, Google me!" was my response.

The frustration of being treated by the auto manufacturers,  whom I've been covering and working with for 25 years, like some uninitiated tag-along, can't be conveyed in words. And I am not alone. This is happening to a lot of us. But I digress…..

Back to today's media day being devoted to social media. It seems to me that if you tweet (I can't believe I just typed, tweet.) or blog, you could have easily done so from yesterday's formal press conferences, but evidently not. Somehow they require a day dedicated to them. So that's what today is about. Nothing is scheduled. I guess if I were a tweeter, I would just wander around the exhibits and provide my impressions in 150-character spurts. Instead, I have chosen to relax in my room until an hour before my shuttle from McCormick Center to the airport is scheduled to leave at noon.   

Here's to flights that operate on time.

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