Auto show is stage for core coverage of new concepts

DETROIT: As the North American International Auto Show opens its doors this week to some 6,800 journalists from 60-plus countries, auto PR will be as critical as the new sheet metal.

DETROIT: As the North American International Auto Show opens its doors this week to some 6,800 journalists from 60-plus countries, auto PR will be as critical as the new sheet metal.

"In terms of sheer influence and size, this is the one to get coverage and [to] influence the buying public," said Jim Sanfilippo, senior industry analyst at automotive marketing consultancy AMCI.

Terry Rhadigan, director of global auto shows at GM, which is set to unveil four production cars and two concepts, said the company will build buzz by revealing nothing in advance, a diversion from tactics of yore.

"The media said there was no anticipation at the show anymore," Rhadigan said. "We took that very seriously.

"People are asking me about what the cars are; I just tell them, 'I'll see you at the show,'" he added. Rhadigan said GM, which has recently announced job cuts and downsizing, plans on generating optimism for 2006 "one debut at a time." He also said GM, whose new products are weighted toward SUVs this year, is going to have to address historically high gasoline prices, making subcompacts popular again. "We'll be promoting that our SUVs are the best in class on fuel economy," Rhadigan said.

Toyota, which had a banner year in 2005, and comes to the show wrapped in green thanks to PR and ad efforts touting its Hybrid-Synergy Drive, will show the new hybrid Camry. Mike Michels, corporate manager of external communications, said because the auto media knows about the car, "We want to generate some awareness for the car with the lifestyle and environmental media."

Chrysler has traditionally used theatrics as a key part of its vehicle debuts, with executives prancing about in costumes or riding superbikes on stage. Jason Vines, head of communications at the Auburn Hills, MI, company, said this year will be no different, with Desperate House- wives star Eva Longoria set to emerge from a concept car at tomorrow's press conference.

Ford is debuting seven cars this week, said Jon Harmon, director of product public affairs. "We're focusing on three aspects of innovation: environmental technology, safety, and design," Harmon said.

"We promised to put 250,000 hybrid cars on the road a year until the end of the decade, and we'll discuss our advancement on that project," he added.

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