July 27, 2010
Lovin’ Cars in DetroitLast week, I went on one of the fastest trips to anywhere “new” quite possibly in the last ten years. Quick trips are something I typically avoid; I try to stay several days after my business purpose for being there – to meet up with friends, scour the destination, shoot (my Canon is never very far away) and sample restaurants, cafes, bars and venues.
There are some places on this globe you really have no reason to go unless something about that destination that the whole world knows about, draws you there. Memphis for Elvis, Pisa for its leaning tower, Stonehenge for “stones,” Orlando for Disney….you get the idea. So, if you ever find yourself on a plane to Detroit, just because I’d be surprised, although I’m sure people have done it.
People typically head there – at least on business - because they are involved in some way, shape or form to the car industry or might want to partner with a player in the car industry. In fact, I ran into a former client I had not seen in awhile and of course they too were heading to Ford for a meeting the next day.
Because of the fact that I’m blogging more ‘lifestyle’ these days, in Detroit, I found myself on a plane to Detroit and then a shuttle to Dearborn Michigan for a dog-and-pony with Ford with over 75 other journalists and bloggers brought in from around the world. (Reason: advance look at the 2011 Ford Explorer - my coverage of the news here).
One of the things I immediately noticed was the ‘air’ – a quick reminder that we were closer to East Coast summer climate. For example, I saw a lightening bug, a wonderful reminder of my childhood in upstate New York where we’d run around and capture them for late night viewing in glass jars set next to our beds.
Because the trip was so short, I didn’t have time to explore Detroit or Dearborn, but the Dearborn Inn is worth noting because it ‘wears’ the auto industry on its sleeve, with photos of automobiles on the room walls, the hallway walls and in the pub, which is decked out with a burgundy pool table, plenty of TV screens blaring with sports, antique wooden tables and comfortable chairs covered with decorative paisley Victorian-style material.
After an outside buffet dinner which included burgers, salads, salmon, and chicken, several of us headed to the pub. Others headed to their rooms to work or call their families -- I quickly learned that more traditional automotive reporters spend a lot of time on the road traveling to car shows and various manufacturers who do dog-and-pony shows like the one Ford set up for us this week.
Many were not returning home but to LA for another gig. I learned about a recent shindig in Montreal, another in the Bay Area, the list goes on. Most of the reporters knew each other from the repetitive trips to all the usual suspects which they have done again and again for years. One guy from Texas and another from Oklahoma spotted me and said “you’re new. We don’t know you.” It wasn’t done in that secluded “you’re not one of us kinda way; it was done in an endearing “wanting to know what you’re about and are interested in” kind of way.
A lot of these guys are more interested in the nuts and bolts, the factual details, the stats of new car features, whether it be about fuel economy, technology, safety or things that make the car better. Others were really into the engine – and I mean, really into the engine. Everyone from car radio and TV talk shows and the Detroit Free Press to Kelley Blue Book and L’Automobile out of Canada were there.
Some lifestyle folks were there and a few bloggers, although adding bloggers and social media types is relatively new for them, largely due to the impressive efforts of Scott Monty, Ford’s head of social media, who I’ve met over the years at events like BlogWorldExpo and SXSW. He’s prolific and everywhere, eager to explore, engage and listen.
What was most intriguing was how regimented it was – not specifically the way Ford does things, since most corporate giants run press events in a fairly structured way, but how regimented the process was for the ‘industry.’ It’s an industry these guys take seriously and after all, why not? Cars are one of the most expensive purchases we tend to make after a home. People are so interested in cars that some traditional press despite circulation declines, still have a significant amount of space set aside for auto coverage. Tim Spell from the Houston Chronicle writes for a daily column dedicated only to cars and trucks.
The second thing I noticed was how passionate everyone was about cars. It’s a lifestyle for those who live and breathe automobiles. I grew up in a family who tinkered with cars when you could still tinker with them. My grandfather had several cars hanging around at any given time and my male cousins and uncles had the same. Ford was a favorite in the 1950s and 1960s when ‘buying American’ and supporting an American car manufacturer wasn’t just trendy, it was the “right thing” to do.
I’ve had my fair share of cars over the years and they’ve ranged from Chevys (my first two), a Fort Escort, a Fiat Uno, Toyotas and then Hondas. I stayed away from BMWs and Saabs for the most part because I didn’t want to have to rely on a man to tinker with a mess (at the time when you could still tinker).
I just wanted the damn thing to run for as long as it could without a lot of maintenance. I voted less with my pocket and more for what was going to give me the best endurance and reliability. A close second was design, color and inside functionality. For my grandmother, oddly enough, it was both speed and safety. She had a ‘lead’ foot, so that is likely why safety was her close second.
I ran into Bob Tasca Jr. from the infamous Tasca Ford, a name you’ve probably heard of if you’ve spent any time on the East Coast. He’s based in Rhode Island and his father, who passed away in January at 83, is known as a Ford racing legend. He spent more than two hours trying to convince me to give up my Honda and buy a Ford and seemed committed to getting me into a Ford Mustang convertible before the year was up.
Not only is he passionate about Ford, but he feels pretty strongly about buying a vehicle that supports the “motherland.” As for Ford being the most reliable car on the market, he’s convinced that they are ahead of other players and lived and breathed this conviction in a way that was addictive. I did a video interview with Bob which you can tune into here.
Also milling about the pub were others in town who were not part of our tribe, but who also lived and breathed cars. Ford dealers in from Texas, Colorado and other parts of the country were talking shop over beers and martinis. The pub albeit a traditional and cosy pub that reminded me more of British pubs than American ones in many ways, had a surprisingly diverse wine selection and they also served monster sized shrimp cocktails with spicy rangy sauce and thousand island dressing.
Flights to and fro were packed and the air was hot and muggy and had that mid-summer thickness about it, something many people flea from, but I love. I wouldn’t be surprised if I return to Detroit for more ‘car talk’ at some juncture for once the car bug hits you in some way, I have a feeling it either sticks around for awhile or returns at another juncture in your life.
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