Any Color You Want

Any color you want…so long as it’s black.

Remember that famous thought from Henry Ford?

The actual quote is:

“People can have the Model T in any color so long as it’s black.”

I wonder what Henry would make of the 2011 Detroit Auto Show where custom colors, configurations and styles are nothing more than the basic cost of entry.

Last year, I reported on a subdued show, with low key crowds and displays like Chevrolet being no more than cars on carpet with nary a model or guide in sight.

How the wheel has turned!

At the gala charity opening, the champagne was flowing, the glitz was glitzy, the tuxedoed and gowned formal crowd was almost giddy with elixir of vindication by success.   The displays were once again big and bold.  Models and dancers and costume-clad entertainers battled to keep audiences interested and involved in their booths and all-in-all, it is fair to say that the industry is back.

See guide to the 2011 Detroit auto show.

Some quick observations:

  1. Ford was one of the few manufacturers last year that had a serious and positive/optimistic presence at the show.  This year it was the center of energy and power. Remember Ford took no government money which in light of its growing success reminded me of the following Henry Ford quote: “Chop your own wood and it will warm you twice.”
  2. The Chevrolet Volt received a lot of attention pre-show but was not the dominant fixture at Chevrolet – in fact a new muscle Camaro was maybe even more front and center. Ford had a much more elaborate electric car display with an indoor track that you could drive the car on.
  3. Audi had an amazing display with car design being the dominant takeaway.
  4. The Korean cars have come into their own and are a force to be reckoned with – think Samsung.
  5. Porsche is Porsche – what can I say…

Truth is—what I found most interesting was that size still matters—lots of “trucks” and such; power is still a turn on (just look at all the muscle cars); luxury is still in—at CES $18,000 was an expensive story—

Here, $200,000 is an “of course” for top-of-the-line.  The Maybach is still being produced and had its own stand – think about that you oracles of a changed world and the Smart Car.  The Tesla and the like had almost no visitors, while I couldn’t get near the Bentley.

I also managed to speak to a couple of industry luminaries and I found their spontaneous comments to be illuminating.

The first was Ford CEO Alan Mulally who also gave a keynote at CES last week.  In our discussion what excited him the most when talking about the cars was the “magic” – not the metal. He was excited about the side sensors that will let people pull safely out of head in parking at Malls and elsewhere and the continued focus on using technology to make the driving experience safer and more productive Ford SYNC demo at CES 2011.  I have to tell you, when you sit in a car that “only” has Bluetooth and a nav set, you feel like you are in the stone ages.

The second was racing legend Jackie Stewart (I am a big fan…it was a hero treat!)

The “Flying Scot” attired in his Tartan pants and green jacket—now a Sir by the way. I asked him what he drove and he said a hybrid.  I was blown away until I remembered that he was the catalyst for and led the movement for racing safety in an industry notorious for no rules and lots of death and injury. A consistent visionary if you will.

Beyond that I was like a kid in a toy store. I wore out the seat of my rented tux (a story for another time…) sitting in just about every car on the floor pushing every button I could and some I probably shouldn’t have; turning dials, shifting gears, opening doors,  closing tailgates. You name it; I saw/experienced it.

Bottom line?

It was a show very much focused on the now. What I can sell this year and next; what the consumer can and will buy. As I mentioned, very little focus on making electric practical or green a reality. Much more focus on making your drive home tonight as fabulous as it can be.

That led me to a final Henry Ford thought, and one much in line with where the industry is today.  Listen:

“You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do.” Henry Ford

Something all of us can think about…No?

What do you think?  Check out the show

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