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Where’s Detroit?

January 6, 2010

The 2010 North American International Auto Show (aka Detroit Auto Show) kicks off next Monday, January 11th.

Typically, by this time, we’d have been treated to extensive media kits on pretty much every single big debut, complete with rambling press releases, scores of high-resolution photos, and maybe even a few videos.

This year? Nary a peep.

Okay, we’ve seen the Mini Beachcomber concept. And we’ve seen the Audi A8. The Cadillac CTS-V Coupe concept dropped yesterday. And we’ve seen the Chevy Volt running around for a couple of years now.

But for the most part, the big reveals remain in the shadows, with not even so much as a teaser to whet our appetites.

What gives?

I think I may have an idea.

Back in 2007, I attended the Detroit show to observe and report. When I returned, one of my big takeaways was the overall blandness of the proceedings. Back before the internet, the automakers had to push the media kits out well in advance to ensure their new models made it into the pages of Motor Trend and whatnot in a timely manner. And since the dying industry isn’t quite dead yet, they still do. But the internet complicates things. When you show off shiny high-res photos and issue super-detailed press releases, you kill the surprise. The actual, physical unveiling becomes an afterthought.

My recommendation was to go one of two ways. The first? Move big debuts outside the auto show circuit and host, dare I say it, an Apple-like event to show off your new wares. The second? Hold back the press kits until literally fifteen minutes before the car is unveiled.

In other words, recapture the surprise.

Over the past several months, I’ve seen automakers moving that direction.

GM hosted its own event to debut the Buick Regal.

Honda debuted the Crosstour on Facebook (too bad it was hideous and counter to most people’s expectations).

And now, one of the biggest expected reveals of this year’s Detroit show, the third-generation Ford Focus, remains nowhere to be seen. They haven’t even followed the usual spy shot striptease, where the pre-production models gradually shed their camo to reveal the roofline, or the headlights or whatever, until they’re basically just covering the emblem. There’s been none of that.

It’s almost as if automakers have taken a page from the Apple playbook. I for one, will be interested to see if this behavior continues, or if it’s just a fluke.

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