The Bizzare World of the Auto Shows - Autoline on Autoblog with John McElroy

When I was a kid, I couldn't wait for the auto show. It was one of the most exciting things we did every year. Dazzling displays, shiny new models, and the hubbub of thousands of show-goers created an electricity in the air.
Today, as a member of the media, it's a very different experience.

The press days at a modern auto show are a grueling marathon. Every automaker has a half hour to hawk its wares, and the press conferences run back to back to back, for two or three days straight, dawn to dusk. Throw in the late-night dinners and some jet lag and you'll understand why everyone is dragging at the end.

John McElroy is host of the TV program "Autoline Detroit". Every week he brings his unique insights as an auto industry insider to Autoblog readers. Follow the jump to finish reading this week's editorial.

Besides, it's a madhouse. For one thing, it's an overflow crowd at each press conference. That's because every show packs in many thousands of attendees, allegedly members of the "media," even though everyone knows most of the people there are not from the press. I doubt there are 500 legitimate automotive journalists at each show.

Because the show organizers want to impress the car companies with a full house, they give credentials to thousands of people who aren't really from the media. They're consultants, pr flacks, marketers, suppliers or even the automakers' own employees.

Of course, the car companies go along with this scheme with a nod and a wink. They want tons of people at their unveils because they want lots of applause when the wraps come off the new cars. Actually, they have to do this, because the legitimate journalists never applaud for anything. Never. Not when the cars are unveiled, not when the executives are introduced. Not even when they hand out gifts, typically toy models of cars. We're pretty jaded.

In fact, we're so jaded that a few of my cheap colleagues will even put those gifts (and the Ferrari press kit) on e-Bay later that night.

There are so many "media" at each press conference that it's practically impossible to see and hear what's going on unless you get there early. I mean, you have to get there at least a half hour before the press conference starts. Otherwise you're trying to peer over hundreds of heads in front of you. But to get there early means you have to skip the preceding press conference.

Of course, skipping a press conference isn't missing a lot. They're almost all the same. First comes the loud pulsating music. That's punctuated by flashing video screens. And that builds to a dramatic deep-voiced introduction of a senior executive. Then, silence. A suit walks on stage and reads from a prepared text, usually something about sales figures or horsepower ratings. Then he turns to walk off, and it's back to the pounding music and flashy videos.

Talk about a disconnect. If this were an audition for a play, a television commercial or a movie role, these execs would be bounced faster than the producer could scream, "Next!"

When each press conference is officially over, the media swarms on stage, jostling and pushing to form scrums five rows deep around the executives. This is where the real news of the show comes out. But many miss it, because it's too hard to hear what was said if you're not in the inner ring of the scrum.

And so it goes. And so I go, too. Every year, to at least two or three of these auto shows. Why do I go? It's the people I see and get to talk to, after the crowds have rushed on to the next press conference. That's when I learn what's really going on.

Even so, I believe that someday, somewhere, someone will come to their senses and put on press days that are entertaining, informative, accessible and visible to everyone who needs to see it. But then again, I am an incurable optimist.


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