By Stephan Franklin, Auto Show Global
The Detroit Auto Show, the most influential of the year, concluded with record attendance again – at least the numbers are going in the right direction. There are a number of reasons why the show was a success for some and a failure in the minds of others, but one thing was for certain – it had it own charm, and a lot was due to real estate.
Until this year, the auto show exhibitors embraced keeping all of the brands together in one display area. Companies like Ford, General Motors, and Toyota, kept both luxury and traditional nameplates within a short walk through a seamless transition. This year, with brands such as Mini, Bentley and Jaguar having noticeable absences from this year’s show, new floor space was made available. This coincided with the fact that luxury brands appeared to want to stand on their own identity similar to a teenager wanting to move out of the parental house.
While Lexus stayed home with Toyota, Cadillac and Lincoln became next door neighbors as did Chevy and Ford during this year’s show. Ironically Lincoln and Cadillac were parked right across the street from Mercedes, Audi, and BMW respectively in the high rent district of the auto show. It was interesting looking at the crowd from both sides of the fence both from the Chevy and Ford fence and the Cadillac and Lincoln fence.
The Ford Experience was just that, an experience. Most of the exhibits were interactive and highlighting the technology that Ford uses in its products. The displays were bright and open. There were displays featuring the durability of Gorilla Glass, the innovation of vehicle lifestyle connectivity, jellybean cocktails of the Ford Fusion color palate, Legos exhibits, and my favorite: compressed air, simulating wind blowing in your face, causing major distortions, that allowed the visitor to post video to social media. The exhibits were engaging to the visitors and would keep them wandering around the display looking for things to interact with. At some point I remembered to look at the products too. On the Chevy side, the whole product line was nicely organized and warmly lit, and allowed the visitor to pass through and get a closer look at the product offerings. It felt more museum-like than the science center feel I got from Ford.
The Chrysler, I mean FCA (sorry!), display moved to the former GM neighborhood, and it was a needed upgrade. No longer the dark and drab parking lot of the past, the display was lit up like a Christmas tree, with LED screens everywhere. Bright and open, with its luxury brand Alfa Romeo next door, the display does a much better job showcasing all the new Fiat and former Chrysler products.
I walked over to the Cadillac display, the new XT5 was center stage flanked by the rest of the Cadillac lineup. The whole display was brightly lit and had a very elegant but sterile feel. Lincoln on the other hand had very few products to show but the display felt very warm, intimate and engaging. I chatted with one of Ford’s Design Directors about why Lincoln separated itself from the Ford brand. The answer was really simple, Lincoln wanted to be next to the other luxury brands – especially since the space was available and Lincoln was debuting the all-new Continental.
To me, it just felt weird because I really could walk from one spot to the next and get a totally different vibe from all the luxury brands, especially between Lincoln and Cadillac. It really felt as though the two brands were finally coming from underneath the veil of the respective parent companies.
I have worked for both Ford and General Motors, and ironically worked in Lincoln and Cadillac studios. There will always be a battle for top domestic luxury brand, Lincoln and Cadillac have been at it for years. It was great to see an old rivalry start up again. It’s about time that Ford and General Motors start having an honest conversation in-house as who they want to be as a brand, especially in such a competitive domestic market. Let’s wait and see if the domestic luxury brands will actually up the ante for future shows, carve out even more “in-your-face” space, and make this rivalry fun again.