The Detroit auto show has been considered one of the most important shows of the year in North America. I’m somewhat embarrassed to say that even though I grew up in Toronto, spent 2 decades in the auto industry and have been doing automotive media since 2002, I have never been to the show.
As we’ve been hard at work launching Driven Wheels for the Canadian market, I was planning to miss it again this year. I thought that hitting Toronto and Montreal would serve DW readers better. Then I received an invite from the good folks at GM to take part in a social media experiment at NAIAS. I couldn’t turn that one down, so I threw my stuff into my 2010 VW GTI tester to make the short trek to Detroit with The General footing the bill.
Thanks to GM’s Director of Social Media, Chris Barger, The General has been a front runner in the social media wars. The traditional media PR types have been bringing journalists to car shows for years, Barger wanted to show that bringing a wide range of social media specialists together could generate some serious product buzz.
To the traditional pundits, this was a bit of a risky move. Many traditionals still don’t trust the opinions of new media types and a good number of those are more than a little resentful of the attention the new regime has garnered.
Chris assembled an outstanding team of social media types ranging from young bloggers to grisly old early adopters, Twitter specialists and even one who publishes nowhere but Facebook. Bloggers were there in force, from those who cater to enthusiasts, to mommies, to the gay community and even a political blogger who has a mean on for the auto industry.
The amazing thing is that this motley group all shared a passion for or about the car hobby or the industry. This was no blind passion, rather it was a gathering of incredibly intelligent people who had informed opinions about their topics. A couple of us have years of auto industry experience to back up our views. The public journalist far outweighed the trained journalist. Everyone was aware that the group was being evaluated in some manner, as was Barger’s decision to pull this together.
I think the GM brass has already taken notice of the rapid response our group garnered across the social media stratosphere as press conferences were covered and spread around the globe before the speakers left the stage. In our round table discussions with execs, the questions were well thought out and relevant. In other words, Barger’s experiment worked as well as we all knew it would. On a more personal note, I feel I’ve made a few more important connections and friends from this little adventure.
And then there was the show itself. Obviously NAIAS is one of the most important shows on the continent, though there are some who say it has lost some of the luster over the past couple of years. While I haven’t been to New York or LA, I can say that Detroit can’t hold a candle to Toronto. Sure, Detroit may have more launches which makes it more significant, but my hometown show is much bigger and has a lot more stuff going on.
The absence of Mitsubishi, Nissan and Porsche don’t help matters much, but then again, neither does the rather pathetic (but huge) display put on in the Chrysler/Fiat corner of the hall. GM’s display was huge and full of significant new product launches that are sure to keep visitors excited. By far the best display of the show is Ford. Beginning the show by capturing the North American Car AND Truck of the year awards just added to the fun in the Ford booth. A lot of time and effort has been taken to put together an interactive display that has so much activity it would make the local science center blush. The public are really going to enjoy the Ford booth and don’t think the other manufacturers haven’t already taken notice.
Overall, the show was definitely worth a visit. The effort made by the social media team at GM to showcase the brands to the social media crowd was well thought out and I would like to think they’ve accomplished their goals. I certainly think they’ve earned the respect of those who came and didn’t flinch when they were asked some tough questions. It will be interesting to see what impact this interaction has for future media events.