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Has Detroit’s auto show lost its glow?
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TEXT OF INTERVIEW
KAI RYSSDAL: The North American International Auto Show got a little less international this week. Nissan’s not going to show up in January for Detroit’s hometown exhibition. Trying to save cash, the company said. A lot of the glitz has been pared down, too. Somber is how one industry analyst described it. Just not quite as much of a party as the industry’s used to.
Doron Levin’s an editor-at-large for Bloomberg News in Detroit. Good to have you with us.
DORON LEVIN: Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.
RYSSDAL: Give us a very quick taste of what car shows of the past have been like, would you?
LEVIN: In the old days, it used to be a lot of very attractive models in bathing suits. That kind of went away in the ’90s, but there’s still a lot of lights and theater and glitz and glamor. And, so, it’s quite a spectacular event for the people who come to these shows.
RYSSDAL: And so these cutbacks that are happening this year — people not going and parties being smaller. Do you think that they’re substantive or are they a bit more superficial?
LEVIN: They’re actually substantive this year. Nissan shocked everybody when it said it wasn’t going to come to the show and have any press conferences. One of the things that happens at all these shows is there are usually two to three days of press previews before the show opens. And those are for CEOs and high company officials to come and give press conferences and show some of their products and talk about what their plans are for the coming year. And so those of us in the press who cover the automobile industry go to these shows in order, not just to see the cars and trucks, but also to see these people.
RYSSDAL: What about the argument that in tough times that’s exactly when you should be getting in front of the customer. You should really be out there pumping new products and getting your message out. And aren’t they sort of cutting off their nose to spite their face by cutting back on these car shows?
LEVIN: I think there’s some logic in what they’re doing. First of all, there’s the cost. Of course, these things are very expensive. But, then again, the economic demand for cars is quite weak right now. So, by spending a lot of money on promotion and commercials you really are not doing yourself a lot of good because people are just not in the mood to buy cars right now. That may change as credit gets better. That may change as the consumer mood gets better. But the fact is, nobody wants anybody’s cars right now.
RYSSDAL: One thing you pointed out in your article this morning is that some of these companies don’t actually have new products to get out there to show.
LEVIN: That won’t stop them from promoting them, though, Kai. And that happens regularly. We see a coupe that becomes a sedan. We see a red version of what was basically a green version. So that sometimes there isn’t a lot new, but there’s always something to talk about. And they don’t even want to do that because doing that is expensive as well.
RYSSDAL: There’s a decent likelihood that Congress is going to be talking about a bailout just at the time this car show is going on — second week of January thereabouts. How much would a potential bailout change the attendance?
LEVIN: I don’t think it’s going to change the attendance, but it’s certainly going to change what people are talking about. I can anticipate that if there is a great overlap between what’s happening in Washington, what’s happening in Detroit, that the attention of the people at the show is really going to be what’s going on in Washington, and it may detract from the press conferences that do take place.
RYSSDAL: Doron Levin covers Detroit for Bloomberg. Doron, thanks a lot for your time.
LEVIN: Thanks for having me.