Twin Cities 2011: The Home Auto Show Advantage – Part 2

So far, I covered two auto shows this year – and I have no regrets attending either one!

In the last part, I gave some of my friend’s opinions about the products on show at this year’s Twin Cities Auto Show. It was great to have Kevin on board through most of my time at the Minneapolis Convention Center. It was also good to run into Rick and Eric, Matt and his houseguest from Iowa (who’s name escapes me right now – my apologies). Going to a place and seeing familiar faces help make this work worth doing.

Part of my time at the Twin Cities Auto Show was spent connecting with media contacts from a few companies. I was introduced to Toyota’s regional contact where we had an extensive conversation about the role of writers like myself in covering their products. We agreed that I, amongst others across the globe, could convey a better picture of what’s happening in the industry as well as the established press can. That’s validation of ten years of doing this professionally – paid or not.

This is the job of a writer – to be there, experience the moment and report back my findings. There are also many backstories to cover as well. Once it is all put together, then you have something everyone would read.

That’s how it works…sometimes.

One story that loomed over the Twin Cities Auto Show had been the coverage of the earthquake off the coast of Miyagi Prefecture in Japan and the events afterwards. Within reach of the epicenter of the quake and the tsunami’s rush of water and debris are key facilities of the automotive industry. As reports come in that some of these facilities received some collateral damage resulting from the tremor, there were thoughts in the back of my mind as to ways to address these issues. Rather, to see what kind of result the damaged facilities will have on a global scale.

I keep on reminding myself how strong and resilient the Japanese are – both in business and in their personal lives. I also have to keep close tabs as to the affects the aftershocks and, quite possibly, the damage to nearby nuclear energy facilities will have for core of Japan and its portion of the global economy.

It is tough when dealing with the after effects of recent fuel price surges due to revolutionary conflicts in North Africa and around the Persian Gulf to add the earthquake in Japan to the automotive industry’s stresses. We have enough on our plate stateside that is of concern – including wondering if the rise in auto sales will start to slide again as a result of geo-political and catastrophic events.

Still, we’re a nation that embraces the automobile, its industry and related businesses and services resulting from it. Chrysler proclaims that their products are proudly “imported from Detroit.” Ford, Toyota and Chevrolet are fighting for leadership at the top of the sales charts. Saab, Buick and Suzuki have been plotting new courses in a fiercely competitive marketplace. And, Fiat has returned just in time.

In the wings, Hyundai have set the course towards the automotive establishment. New products and a design philosophy have put the 25-year-old Fountain Valley, California operation on a flight path to the top. Kia, Dodge and Volkswagen have also been building new stock to join in the new wave of the automobile – especially in the most critical segments of the American market.

But, oil and tectonic plates still create nervous tensions in the boardroom even as the unemployment rate circles the 9% mark in the USA. The last oil price surge prompted almost every automaker and importer to bring in smaller vehicles along with new levels of efficiency and propulsion alternatives. Or, rather, find ways to combine the automobile with alternative modes of transportation for those who rather not part with their beloved car.

The auto show provides some glamour to a 125-year-old piece of machinery – perfected many times over. It lets us run our fingers along the metal, fabric, hide, rubber and plastic on almost every machine in the building. It is about a fantasy – even as the pocketbook has opened up to possibly fulfill the want of private transportation.

It is these fabricated pieces of art that keep my MacBook humming from time-to-time. It has opened up some new doors for this small-time citizen automotive journalist to graduate in many ways than the one I’m executing next month at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota. It is a sense of pride that people who know me in the community can go to for advice on their automobile.

As much as I had my issues with my father, I attribute his own interesting relationship with the automobile for this work I do. That 1965 Plymouth Satellite hardtop had everything to do with my interactions recently with Chrysler, Hyundai, Toyota, Land Rover, Saab, Subaru, Ford, Buick and other automotive related businesses in the Twin Cities.

The ghost of that white Satellite (with black vinyl roof and vinyl interior) lurked inside the Minneapolis Convention Center. It was parked alongside other ghosts: a 1960 Chevrolet Corvair, a 1967 Chevrolet Impala, a 1970 Plymouth Barracuda, a 1972 Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight, a 1987 Nissan Hardbody pickup and a 1991 Acura Integra.

And, which machine would join this elusive garage of my automotive history? What stories shall I tell on this blog? What plotlines shall I undertake to make these stories come alive?

However, I ask another series of questions. How much will gas be this summer? Can the economy continue to emerge from the financial crisis of 2008 even in the face of revolution and catastrophe here and abroad? If extraordinary changes to the economic and political landscape occur by both domestic and foreign, what will this industry look like when these changes have settled into our psyche?

These are valid questions. They certainly affect the way I think about my work in this realm. Whether or not leaders such as Walker, Gaddafi or anyone else that pose a threat to a civil, stable and moral society will affect the way the world lives remains to be seen even in the short run. Their threats, however, can be thwarted or completely ignored by continuing to be a small-time citizen automotive (and other subject matter appearing on this blog or The Heirloom) journalist.

All photos by Randy Stern

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