Dallas Auto Showoffs

Why the Big Three aren't anymore.

Last weekend I was in Dallas for business.  The people I was working with went to a car show downtown so I ended up joining them.

This turned out to be an extremely large car show with virtually every major manufacturer and many minor ones.  From Ford to Ferrari and Maserati to Mazda, the makers were showing cars, trucks, vans, bikes and concept vehicles of every description and color imaginable.  The latest, greatest and most eye-catching were arrayed in an exuberantly garish display of color, light, and energy.

We wandered up and down the rows of shiny costliness, sitting in many vehicles, looking at all of them, and occasionally discussing details with the manufacturer's information purveyors.  From discussing the new Corvette ZR1 to checking out the engine of the impressively underpowered Chrysler Imperial, little escaped our notice and avid attention.

While I am no great car buff, the atmosphere was certainly infectious and inspiring.  Here were the cars that soon would be clogging our roads, from the cheap to the most exotically expensive.

Details great and small were pointed out, enjoyed, and remarked upon; including a few clearly not thought of by the masters of the show.  (Why was there only one food stand for all those people?)  Of all the millions of dollars worth of cars on display and the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on displaying them most pleasingly (indoor waterfalls?!), some details were sadly lacking.

The displays were arranged so that for the most part the manufacturers were clumped by total average price, with Ford, GM and Chrysler competing to be nearest the main entrances.  Among all the offerings of the foreign-owned manufacturers, fewer than 10 were not available to be sat in, music turned on, navigation systems engaged and even satellite radio tested to ensure that you could see just what could be yours for paltry thousands of dollars or hundreds of thousands!

But when looking at the domestic producers, of all the vehicles sampled (and there were plenty), very few of the high-end models were available for close inspection.  Even worse, however, in only one were we permitted to check out the speakers and in none could we use the navigation systems.  It seems that America has forgotten that customers might want to turn on the electrical system and see what came up!

Far worse, however, was the decided lack of attentive personnel.  When examining Lexus and Mercedes, for instance, it was common to be offered assistance by a properly-suited executive-styled sales person who was ready to discuss any detail of any model with exacting knowledge and enthusiasm.  In fact, they were quite willing to debate and compare their product with the other offerings of the show.

Yet when one wandered between Lincoln and Cadillac, Buick and even Land Rover, aside from the microphone-wearing be-suited announcer patrolling a single rotating display model, it was truly difficult to find anyone available to discuss any question, let alone be knowledgeable about their vehicle.

When wanting to see the hardtop convertible Cadillac XLR go through its rather impressive change, it took over 30 minutes from the time I first went to find a sales person to when I actually got to watch.  Compare that to a Mercedes salesman who practically begged to be allowed to put the hood up on a new C series and show me the marvels on display.  (And just to mention, we were politely NOT allowed to see under the hood of the XLR, let alone the ZR1!)

All in all, it was an enjoyable day wherein I took many pictures and had fun chatting with many different people.  But I assure you, the slow steady slide of the "Big Three" from greatness into irrelevance was no surprise to me.

Tell me all you want that it was just a car show, but I saw the center display of Ford carrying a Focus starting at $14,400 with no one able to tell me how much the displayed features cost.  Contrast that with the Mercedes center display carrying an SL 500 starting around $135,000 surrounded by salesmen willing and able to discuss every feature available for the model.

Some would say that high-end American knowledge and education might well be without peer, but showmanship and display always guide what will be manufactured within OUR borders.  At one time, the Big Three understood the value of showmanship; Lee Iacocca got his start by running spectacular promotions.

Sadly, the Big Three employees are just order clerks.  Seems that if you know why you want one of their cars, they can take your order; but if you aren't quite sure just what you want, they can't really help.

Demosthenes is a guest writer for Scragged.com.  Read other Scragged.com articles by Demosthenes or other articles on Economics.
Reader Comments
it's possible that the "big" american auto manuf. don't have the dough anymore. they are stretched in so many way, constantly hounded by trade negogiations and unions, and never able to produce any profits. if you're going to scale back somewhere, it might as well be at the glitzy auto shows. what percentage of sales actually comes from those? next to none, i would bet.
April 14, 2008 12:02 PM
Hiring intelligent people for the show is probably not that expensive. In fact I would be willing to bet that any of the big 3 could have a contest with customers competing with each other to tell about the newest, the latest and greatest.

It's NOT about the money.
April 16, 2008 10:44 PM
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