Detroit Auto Show: After the caffeine (a blogger's reflection on covering the show)

The hourly doses of double shots of espresso have now worn off and I can look back and reflect on my first North American International Auto Show as a member of the media. I've attended this show many times before during the supplier previews and also during the public days, but this was a whole different experience. We had a team of seven writers from Autoblog and AutoblogGreen, madly photographing, writing, editing, selecting, uploading and then heading back down to the show floor for the next press conference. The show floor was on the ground level of Cobo Hall and the Michelin Media center was up on the third floor. We started out at 7 a.m. going over the day's schedule to figure out who was going to cover which press conferences. From that point onward, we didn't really let up until 7 p.m. when the media center closed for the night. Since we are blogs news outlets, we were trying to generate as much compelling content as possible and getting it online quickly. We had some interviews arranged in advance, but a lot of coverage was opportunistic. For example, I went to look at the Smart parking demonstration and ended up interviewing SmartUSA's communications director and getting the scoop on their introduction plans several hours before the press conference.
Continue reading my wrap up after the jump.
For me, the festivities actually started out on Saturday evening at the GM Style event. General Motors set up an enormous tent in a parking lot near their corporate headquarters in the Renaissance Center. There were several hundred media people there, most of whom seemed to be more far more interested in the B and C list stars, than the cars. They had a red-carpet area where the celebs came in and a riser for all the photographers and TV and video cameras. It was all rather surreal to see so many media making such an effort to capture images of people for no other reason than that they were "famous" and in the room. None of the celebrities there really had anything to do with cars, and it wasn't really clear why GM even held this event. The only person there that I even remotely cared about was Laird Hamilton, probably the worlds greatest surfer. The runway show consisted of a parade of GM concepts that have already appeared at shows around the world for the last two years, with only two debuts. The first was the limited edition blinged-out Jay-Z Yukon Denali and the other was the Camaro convertible concept. I could definitely think of better ways to spend a Saturday night as well as spending GM's money.

After a late night of editing and uploading photos and posts, the team got started dark and early Sunday morning. I had been up past midnight the night before and I checked to make sure that the posts on the Chevy Volt had gone live once the embargo expired. As Sebastian wrote elsewhere, the information on the Volt had started to slip earlier on Saturday, but almost no real detail came out early. The New York Times made a passing mention of the name in a story that was dated Sunday but published on their web site on Saturday. The Chicago Tribune published a grainy photo but again without any of the real technical details. This was one of the few big debuts that mostly didn't leak before show time. By the time we got started Sunday, the story had already been submitted to Digg and had about three dozen diggs. We checked back during the course of the day as the number of diggs kept climbing and more and more sites linked to our story. We ultimately got on the front page of,, dailykos, engadget and many others. By the end of the day AutoblogGreen had achieved more than twenty times our normal daily traffic levels and we had our best day ever. General Motors really made an effort to embrace bloggers this year and that included scheduling lots of interviews with various GM executives and engineers. A group of us even got to interview Bob Lutz the afternoon after the Volt unveiling. The Volt coverage has generated huge, predominantly positive response from readers and hopefully, GM will be building this car before too long.

Chrysler has been doing huge auto show productions every year since at least 1989 when Bob Lutz drove the first generation Jeep Grand Cherokee through the front doors of Cobo Hall, and 2007 was no exception. I heard that there were over 6,600 registered journalists here this year and It seemed like most of them attended the Chrysler press conferences. Most of the presentations I attended had a couple of hundred people but the Chrysler shows easily had over a thousand and you had to get there at least an hour early if you wanted to get a decent position to get some photos of the reveal. Unfortunately, to me at least, it seemed Chrysler may have put more effort into the production than the vehicles. The theme of the Monday conference when they introduced the concepts was "the beat of a different drummer" and they had some African style drumming group called Drum Cafe. The problem is, it seems that for the design of most of their recent production cars Chrysler has been dancing to the beat of a drummer with no rhythm. In the last few years Chrysler has had some hugely successful and unsuccessful cars, like the 300 and Crossfire respectively. It would seem that if you are going to copy styling elements from previous cars you would take from the ones that sold well, rather than the ones that bombed. However, the Sebring has way to much of the Crossfire and none of the 300. As for green stuff, all that Chrysler had to offer was the BlueTec diesel in the Trailhawk concept, and a flex-fuel engine in the Avenger. Judging from my interview with Nick Cappa, Chrysler will definitely have more to offer next year, especially the hybrid Durango.

When visiting the stands of most of the German car-makers the big green theme was definitely diesel. Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen, and Audi all had lots of new diesel powered cars and SUVs and all were promoting the BlueTec emissions technology developed by Mercedes. BMW also had a diesel engine display, but it was toward the back of the stand and none of the displayed vehicles had a diesel engine installed. In a discussion with Daniel Kammerer of BMW, he explained that they were using the BlueTec technology but not using the brand-name. Although Smart showed off the new ForTwo that's coming to the US next year, they also confirmed that they aren't bringing a diesel, at least not at first. Nonetheless, I think the ForTwo will be a big success, especially in urban areas, because it's so easy to park.

Over at Ford, the big alternative fuel deal was the Airstream concept. It's a peculiar looking sort of minivan-crossover type vehicle with a plug-in series hybrid drive-train. But instead of the internal combustion engine/generator combination of the Volt, it uses a hydrogen fuel cell. The fuel cell is definitely not as advanced as the vertical stack in the Honda FCX, but it's a big step forward from the old one used in Focus FCX I drove a couple of months ago. Aside from the Airstream, the other Ford concepts, the Interceptor and Lincoln MKR both had flex-fuel engines and the revised Focus and Five Hundred were clean enough to be classified as partial zero emission vehicles. Unfortunately, it looks like neither the Interceptor or MKR will ever get to the end of an assembly line.

Most of the big companies had hospitality areas at their stands where media could fuel up on espresso and assorted snacks, and I took full advantage of this several times a day. One thing about covering a big show like this is you do a lot of laps around the show floor, catching interesting people to interview and grabbing photos of the new models, the ones on wheels and the ones in heels. Most of the car makers also had open WiFi access in their presentation areas, which was handy when I had to arrive early, because I could write and upload my stories and photos from the preceding presentations. Chrysler probably had the best WiFi and I filed four stories while waiting for their press conferences to start. The action continued right up until the Michelin media center closed up. The media center provided a great work area for us, with lots of power strips to plug in laptops and camera battery chargers, and several hundred ethernet connectors with really fast upload speeds. Unfortunately, the concentration of laptops in the media center was so great that the WiFi was totally overwhelmed.

Once the the media center closed up at 7 we packed up our gear and headed across the street to the Firehouse. The Firehouse is, as the name implies a former firehouse, turned into a bar, where for the last several years, Chrysler has opened it up to the media in the evening, with free food and drinks. It was a great opportunity to sit around relax and get to know the other members of the Autoblog team. We also got served by the likes of Dieter Zetsche and Emmett Smith tending bar. Overall, the big impressions I got from the show is that Chrysler seems to be treading water, Ford still hasn't bottomed out, and GM is the only domestic on the rise. For the past several years under J Mays, except for the Mustang and GT, Ford design has been decidedly boring, but it looks like Peter Horbury will really be shaking things up. Now they just have to move designs like the Interceptor and MKR into showrooms. With cars like the Volt, Malibu, Camaro, and CTS, GM really seems to have come to grips with the concept of building great cars. The production models look good on the outside, and have fantastic interiors with great materials and design. Hyundai and Kia have really learned how to build high quality, low cost cars, and now if Kia actually follows through and transfers design elements of the Kue concept to future production cars, they will be hard to beat.

Covering the auto show was a lot of work, but it was also fun, especially having such a great team to work with, both on site and those at home. Thanks to John, Alex, Noah, Eric, Mike, Scott, Sebastian, Damon and everyone else who contributed to making our coverage such a huge success. Now it's time to get ready for Chicago!

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