Car brands tell comeback, innovation stories at New York Auto Show

Automakers are taking advantage of the New York Auto Show as a platform for high-profile vehicle launches and redesigns, as well as to build on the positive narrative of the recovering automotive industry.

Foreign and domestic automakers are taking advantage of the New York International Auto Show as a platform for high-profile vehicle launches and redesigns, as well as to build on the positive narrative of the recovering automotive industry.

“After everything the industry has been through over the last three years, there is now more optimism,” says David Barnas, group manager of communications for General Motors. “In fact, this show is the strongest I can remember in recent memory in terms of competition and product introductions.”

GM is working with agency partners Weber Shandwick, MSLGroup, and Fleishman-Hillard on media outreach for the show, where it has debuted five models. Other major automakers, including BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Chrysler, and Toyota, have also revealed products.

Nissan's goal is to “own” the New York Auto Show, says David Reuter, VP of corporate communications for Nissan Americas. “We're about the fifth- or sixth-largest auto brand in the country, so we really have to find ways to remove the clutter and get out ahead of some of our domestic competition,” he explains. 

To do that, Nissan partnered with New York City officials to unveil the “Taxi of Tomorrow” at an event in SoHo on April 3. Reuter says Nissan provided embargoed backgrounders to members of the media in the run-up to the reveal of the NV200, which will eventually replace the country's largest taxi fleet.

For example, Nissan invited a transit reporter from The New York Times to be a “fly on the wall” during design freeze meetings. The Times ran the story on April 2.

Reuter says the taxi reveal was a great first story for Nissan, so when it launched the Altima Sedan a day later, media and online followers were already abuzz about the company.

“We wanted to launch the Altima properly, but we knew it wouldn't be enough,” he notes. “We had to put other products and stories out there that would build on the fact we have a lot of momentum in growing our share and sales in the country.”

The Taxi of Tomorrow news provided “the credibility that was going to continue,” he adds. Stratacomm provided PR support for Nissan. The automaker hired the firm, part of Fleishman-Hillard's network, as corporate AOR in February.  

Chris Sams, managing partner of Sams Crispe Communications, the firm that has managed PR for the show since 1998, attributes the activity to increased event registration compared with last year. Registered media, both advance and on-site, is up 27%, while registration for industry members is up 14%.

Toyota is placing most of its PR support behind the debut of its US-made sedan, the new Avalon. A week before the April 5 reveal, Toyota released a teaser photograph of the vehicle. “We wanted to create online buzz and drive conversation about what consumers thought we might be revealing,” explains Sona Iliffe-Moon, marketing communication manager at Toyota Motor Sales.

On the day of the launch, Toyota invited design enthusiasts in the traditional media and bloggers to attend the event as VIPs. They also toured the Museum of Modern Art to learn what inspires the Avalon designers outside the automotive sector.

“We have two design studios in the US,” says Iliffe-Moon. “They've been here for nearly 40 years, so we really wanted to communicate that.”

GolinHarris provided PR support for the initiative. It also managed a Facebook chat through Live Stream with designers of the Avalon.

This year's show is also a hotbed for social media communications, with automakers posting videos, pictures, and text messages on their social media pages. Chrysler, for instance, held a live webcast for its new Viper model, which was watched by thousands of people and will be available on-demand for months afterwards.

“We've got so many media hits from our social media activity for the Viper, it was like throwing chum at a shark pool,” says Ed Garsten, head of electronic communications for Chrysler. Ignite is the automaker's social media AOR.

Garsten says the auto show is helping to continue Chrysler's turnaround story.

“Almost three years into our partnership with Fiat, the public is now seeing some great new products,” he says. “People like to be winners. If they feel like you're a winner, they'll become more interested in what you're doing.”

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