Press days at the L.A. Auto Show are kind of akin to the X Games — with the press as the ones performing dangerous feats, competing for giveaway goodies.  More on that in a bit.

I’ve gone to many conventions.  They’re all different.  For instance, E3, the Electronic Entertainment Expo, caters to sellers rather than consumers, with the press perched slightly higher on the totem pole than professionals.  San Diego’s Comic-Con provides a special line on preview night for professionals, but beyond that, everyone is treated like a regular ticket buyer.  At the aforementioned X Games, press is well taken care of, with a media room full of replenished snacks and catered lunch.  The L.A. Auto Show gives the press two days to be inundated by fast-paced press conferences.

 

For the most part, the press has the convention center to themselves for those two days, with professionals from other companies rounding out the crowd.  Press conferences start early in the morning for the midweek press days.  The exhibition halls are designed specifically for these press conferences and debut announcements, after which the companies redesign their pavilions overnight for the public.

These press conferences are not held in a stuffy room; they’re on the actual exhibition floor.  Each company has a 25-minute slot to trot out their CEO and other top-level executives to put on a show.  This being the age of multimedia, their high-production-value announcements are meant to excite.  I would guess Lee Iacocca, Steve Jobs, or Bill Gates helped ushered in the age in which CEOs have to be as charismatic as politicians or movie stars in shilling their products.  Some CEOs fail at it.  Others bring out actual Hollywood celebrities to make up for their own lack of showmanship.

 

Besides the high-powered execs and their minions in full attendance, many presentations implement video, theatrical light displays, rock music, TelePrompTers, and pretty women.  The keener marketers drive out their company’s cars during their moment in the spotlight.  There are those who use slide projections and little fanfare; surprisingly, the high-end companies are often low-key and low-tech: Their focus is on their 200K automobiles.

Most companies use just over half their time making announcements, with the remaining time used to invite onlookers to participate in photo ops and inspection of the cars.  With a five-minute window between presentations, which can alternate between one side of the convention floor and the other, far away, or be held in another hall entirely, there’s little time allotted for hands-on experience with the car.  Many attendees like to sit inside or take photos at all angles, including the underside.  When the crowd numbers in the hundreds, the opportunity for personal time is elusive.

Oh, and did I mention the press kits?  Directly after the press conference, press kits are handed out, many on flash drives now.  Some companies do use printed fact sheets; some even provide just a card with a Web link.  All the flash drives are specially made for the year and some even for just the LA Auto show.

2012 Fiat Abarth

2012 Fiat Abarth

The most impressive media kit was handed out by Fiat: a wooden box contained a booklet and a scorpion flash drive and key chain made by CustomUSB encased in hard foam.  High-end doesn’t begin to describe this kit for the 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth; the box replicated the huge crate used during the show to contain the car.  With the help of hydraulics, the car was elevated out of the crate and into the air.  Those Italians know how to put on a show.  And the press kit is limited to 500 pieces, individually numbered.  I inquired as to the manufacturing costs of this totally awesome drive but no luck on that.

Buick’s flash drive had a wooden case and was 4GB, and KIA had a pull-apart flash drive shaped like a car.  Chevrolet had its 4GB flash drive encased in a pocketknife, faux leather case.  With all these specially made tchotchkes that are practical and useable, you can imagine the pell-mell competition to get these kits.  And that’s where the journalists have to turn on their best X Games skills to acquire them. Some of the hired models only dole them out to press; after all they are media kits. But the competing company professionals like their swag as much as the next person.  It’s quite amusing to see them turned away.

The press conferences are the hub of activity.  For the most part, the other pavilions have little action.  Some ply strays with catered food and an open bar; champagne, wine, and beer are free for the asking.  Infiniti had both breakfast and lunch, with prime rib, salmon, and couscous served.  Porsche had an endless supply of food with German delicacies as well as New York steak.  Not to be outdone, Cadillac handed out boxed lunches to everyone on Day 2.

Videos were narrated by the likes of Jeff Bridges and Sir Ian McKellenJLo appeared in a Fiat/Gucci video, and basketball star Blake Griffin and actress Paula Patton were some of the other celebs appearing at the show.

The most exciting press conference was put on by Nintendo for its Mario Kart 7 debut for Nintendo 3DS.  West Coast Customs made real-life replicas of two of the vehicles in the game on display.  Costumed Luigi and Mario were on hand to promote the game, along with a slew of women with consoles for attendees to test out the game, debuting December 4.

The most impressive-looking car was the futuristic BMW i8 concept car. A plug-in hybrid, the production car is scheduled for a 2014 release.

 

With all the press kits to bring home, I was extremely thankful to the UPS center at the L.A. Convention Center for providing credentialed press free shipping.  With Bentley providing hardcover books, my cheap Scion plastic bags already had broken, spilling all my swag onto the floor.

When possible I avoided getting into the actual cars, especially the luxury ones — afraid I’d like it too much and set up camp.

The L.A. Auto show is open to the public November 18-27 at the L.A. Convention Center.

 

***researching CustomUSB for this article, my eBay mouth was salivating at all the cool custom flash drives they’ve made, including a hamburger, a pull-apart fortune cookie, and a Murphy’s Oil bottle.  They even made a replica of a Nikon riflescope.  They also do earphones.  I totally want a Heineken set with replica bottle caps for each ear.

 

–Ken Choy

photo of Scorpion flash drive provided by molotalk.com

 

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