Or a slap at the spirit of cooperation that holds big auto shows together?
That debate played out this week as a strong undercurrent to the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
On Friday evening, Jan. 6, Ford Motor Co. invited journalists to one of two “NAIAS Embargoed Product News Backgrounder” events on Monday, Jan. 9. By weekend’s end, Ford would cancel that plan, opting for a Tuesday-only event.
Ford declined to discuss the issue, beyond a statement (see below). But given the sense of disbelief that has been privately expressed by rival automakers to me and to some of my colleagues, it’s safe to say that the Detroit Auto Dealers Association, which puts on the show, had more than the usual amount of chaos to deal with on the eve of this year’s press preview.
Bear with me. This gets a little thick.
Jan. 9 was the main media day for the Detroit show. In a carefully orchestrated schedule, from Chevrolet at 7:30 a.m. to China’s GAC at 2:30 p.m., automakers got 25 minutes alone in the spotlight.
That’s how big auto shows work around the world. Car companies spend a fortune on them -- not just for the displays themselves, but in untold hours of executive time.
The invitation received by Automotive News offered two options: A 12:30 p.m. briefing or a 2:15 p.m. briefing. So as Honda was unveiling its new Odyssey and Toyota was showing its next Camry -- two of the show’s biggest debuts -- Ford planned to shuttle journalists away from downtown Detroit and into its Product Development Center near its Dearborn HQ -- about 20 minutes away -- for a look at an “important” product that they could write about at a future date.
(Automotive News and other publications accept advance briefings about new vehicles in exchange for an agreement not to publish until a specified date and time.)
Granted, the number of journalists drawn offsite would have reflected a tiny percentage of the 5,000 media members who registered for this year’s press preview.
But as we have said before on our editorial pages, the whole concept of auto show as a spectacle hinges on the willing participation of a community of companies, coming together in the collective interest in the industry and its customers.
And as Rod Alberts, executive director of the DADA himself has said, his two biggest customers are the media and automakers.
Ford’s 25 minutes started at 9:05 a.m. It should not have been offering a lure to journalists to leave the show while other automakers had their 25 minutes later that day.
In its statement, Ford said: “We moved our Monday and Tuesday briefings to Tuesday only to ensure our briefings did not take media away from other automakers' news conferences on press day.”
And Ford deserves credit for that.
In the future, let’s hope that Ford and its competitors wait for all scheduled media-days events to conclude before offering competing offsite attractions of their own.