Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Hecklers and models at the NY auto show...Where are the pro's?

Three days ago, the New York times reported on a story that female models working the floor as announcers for new car concepts at the NY Auto show were being rudely heckled by angry crowd members spewing vitriol at the US car companies.

Glamour Dims as Hecklers Hit the Auto Show

Published: April 13, 2009

Just a year ago, working as a product presenter at an auto show was a pretty straightforward job. You stood next to a vehicle, you called it a marvel of engineering, style and comfort and then you fielded softball questions like, “What does this baby cost?”

But that was before the bailout. Now that the government has helped General Motors and Chrysler stave off bankruptcy with billions of dollars in loans, these companies are finding somewhat hostile crowds at their exhibits. Which leads to scenes like the one on Friday at the New York auto show, where a blond woman in a tight black dress stood on a rotating platform and pitched the sporty Dodge Circuit, one of five electric cars that Chrysler is developing.

Donald Han, an accountant from Queens, sounded unmoved. “Why now?” he asked the woman, rather curtly, once she had finished her patter. “How come you’ve got to nearly go bankrupt before you come out with a car like this?”


Long a glamorous showcase for carmakers, auto shows have lately become a place for buyers and gawkers to vent. Few of the attendees at the Javits Center, where the New York show runs until Sunday, will ever encounter a top executive from G.M. or Chrysler. But all of them get within heckling range of the presenters and for some, that is good enough.

It does not seem to matter that these women — they are nearly all women, most of them young and attractive — work part time for marketing firms and talent agencies that have contracts to run the exhibits. Many know little about the car companies they are working for beyond the scripts they have memorized.


“I try to explain that we’re not involved in corporate decisions, so complaining to us doesn’t really make a lot of sense,” said Kerri Moss, standing on a large turntable next to a Jeep 4X4 Laredo, a Chrysler product. Recently laid off from her job as a teacher, she is trying to earn some money on the car show circuit, which runs from September to May. “And if that doesn’t work, I tell them we’re doing the best we can.”

Often, that does not work either. One G.M. presenter said a woman told her the company was responsible for the death of American soldiers in Iraq. The logic went like this: if G.M. made more fuel-efficient cars, the country would not need so much oil, and if the country did not need oil, United States troops would never have invaded.


“I didn’t say anything,” recalled the presenter, who like many others here declined to give her name because she is not supposed to speak to the news media. “What can you possibly say? ‘Thanks?’ ”

What I find most interesting is that the Times covered this more like a special interest story on how the crowd was somehow being unfair to part-time actresses, and all this was tarnishing the glamour. True, but there is a bigger story, and it goes beyond the auto show circuit.

Any car is an immensely challenging product to design, plan, and bring to market. Each represents 10's of thousands of collective hours of work, and is usually the result of a talented teams hard work and effort. Why is it that the result of this hard team-work is displayed in dealers by salesmen who know less than the internet-armed shopper, and at auto shows by actresses who have to memorize the name of the company for which they are working that day?

I would argue - especially in this day of reality television - that customers might appreciate seeing and hearing from the team that actually had a hand in making the car. Sure, this might not be feasible at every dealership, but certainly at the major auto shows. I do not mean for press night, but I am suggesting every day that the show is on, the real makers of the car should be there and available to answer questions. Not only would that serve to provide on-lookers with quality information, but it might also serve to connect the makers with the actual users of the product. I can guarantee that products would improve, and that the hecklers would have less to heckle about. What is not to like about that?