I awoke in a pitch black hotel room. Rolling over to check the clock, it’s 5:42am. My wake up call is coming in 18 minutes. And my cell phone alarm. I close my eyes, relishing the last few minutes of peace and serenity ahead of what will be a fun but very busy day. Soon enough, time to get ready. I walk into the reception room to see that I’m the only person dressed in a suit. Why is this? You see, bloggers hate suits, but I’m easily traumatized. When I covered my first auto show in New York City, I showed up in khaki pants, shirt and a blazer, and everyone else had on a suit. Never again, I vowed.
We quietly staggered onto the bus that would take us to Detroit at 6:30am sharp. It’s still dark, and a blogger from Long Island is chatting me up. Ford has a room reserved for us at Cobo Hall with breakfast served. Standing in front of a wall of windows overlooking the Detroit River, with Canada just on the other side staring back at me. Press credentials in hand, it’s time to go to the Joe Louis Arena for an 8:00am press conference. That’s right, Ford is premiering the 2013 Ford Fusion where the Detroit Red Wings play.
No, we’re not on ice-in fact, Ford constructed their own circular arena for the audience to sit and witness the debut. There is a good crowd turn-out for such an early press conference, and I count at least 20 TV crews on the upper perimeter. The show begins.
This isn’t my first time at a world premiere, but I’ve never witnessed something like this. Ford made sure the audience knew that the Fusion’s main competition, the Accord and Camry have never recovered from pre-recession sales levels, while 2011 was the best selling year for the Fusion yet. Ford is aiming at the jugular, and I’m at the edge of my seat. Hairs on he back of my neck raised, music pounding, we meet the new Fusion, and it is…stunning. This is why Ford brought us here, for this moment. It is a radical departure from the prior Fusion. The car has a distinctly European flair to it, with a very Aston Martin inspired front end. The car drips class, and it an absolute knock-out. Checking other online car sites, it’s pretty much unanimous the Fusion stole the show. I agree, but there is a very close second.
I make the Dodge press conference just in time. And this was major because it was the world debut of the 2013 Dodge Dart. In stark contrast to Ford, Dodge was eating humble pie, openly admitting they had failed at offering a competitive compact car. While it’s known that Chrysler’s parent, Fiat, has fallen short of sale expectations with the Fiat 500, with the Dodge Dart, I think we’re going to finally see a payoff here. With Alfa Romeo DNA built-in, I’m ready to get out my checkbook. Throughout the day, attention on the Dart never tapered off-the Dart stand was packed with journos and film crews all day, non-stop. The Garage will be following the Dodge Dart closely. Watch this space.
Back to Ford, we were reminded that between them and Lincoln, they boasted the biggest exhibit at the show. Not only the largest, but the grandest. In the past shows I’ve attended in New York, Lincoln is usually tucked away in a corner, but not this time around.
Staggering in size and execution, the Lincoln stand was a two level display with two separate mezzanines. One was the Lincoln Lounge, offering crab cakes, veal meatballs, salmon and duck gourmet appetizers, full bar, newspapers, and charging stations for phones, tablets and laptops. On the opposite side, a display of Lincoln accessories, and a very special one-off custom hot rod built for Edsel Ford. With Ford now running on all cylinders, the attention now is to get Lincoln back into shape, and to be a legitimate contender to Cadillac once again.
At the Ford stand, us blogger guests had our own area, where we would be able to have Q&A sessions with top-level Ford execs, including CEO Alan Mulally. An enormous screen above showed each time anyone used the hashtag #FordNAIAS, a reminder of just how seriously Ford is taking the power and potential of social media.We were being heard.
As for duds and thuds, yes, there were some. Detroit was the North American debut of the Subaru BRZ, the sportiest Subie of all time. And barely no one noticed. Acura showed a larger RDX that nearly put me to sleep. Honda was exceptionally timid this year. I could sense the shame in the new Civic, as it was parked in a corner. GM covered plenty of space, but the mood was, in comparison, far more subdued than the other Big Three.
All the while my feet are killing me, and I’m cursing out my blogger counterparts for their casual dress. Until I hit the Bentley booth. Media days at Detroit are private, but Bentley is invitation only. And I’m waved in. Next thing I know I’m offered champagne and being shown the ultra-luxe Mulsanne. I’m maintaining my suit policy for auto shows.
Although the show continues all day, Ford has us leaving back to the hotel at 3:00. Fine by me, since I am positively wiped out. I board the bus, and as we pull out of Cobo, I am seeing the city of Detroit for the first time in daylight. I knew it was bad here from what I heard in the news….but wow. In the city, just towering shells of empty brick buildings. Once on the interstate back to Dearborn, it was no better. All along the highway, looking at the houses, everywhere homes were boarded up, our just empty shells, or burned out. It was a sight that I’ve never seen for all the 38 years I’ve lived in America. For the opulence I experienced at Cobo Hall to the luxury hotel that awaited in Dearborn, the sights in between painted a disturbing picture of the Motor City.
Once back at the hotel, it was time to kick off my shoes and get some rest. That evening we would be dining at Ford’s global headquarters. Considering the size and importance of Ford, it was very unassuming in appearance. No cascading waterfalls or art galleries in the lobby. Just a simple entry, although around the corner, a trio of vintage Boss Mustangs were on display. Dinner was great, as was an entertaining series of Ignite presentations. What’s an Ignite presentation? A speaker can pick any topic, speak for five minutes, with a changing slideshow to go along with it. It was funny, entertaining, and informative. Again, another insight that Ford is on the cutting edge of social media trends, yet without any self-promotion.
After an exhaustive day, I was only too happy to return to the hotel. A majority of us retired to the lounge, where we shared an exciting exchange on blogging in general. All in all, a great day. Headed back to the room, exhausted. Packed up some items, tried to watch some TV but was too tired to stand it. Lights out.