Having a Wake at the New York Car Show

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Shannon Stapleton/ reuters

A woman sits inside the 2010 Ford Taurus at the 2009 New York International Auto Show

The press is upset that the car companies will not put on their usual splendid displays at the New York International Auto Show. There will not be a big collection of V8 thunder cruisers, women in bikinis to demonstrate the latest models, and wild concept cars which are inordinately attractive but will never be built.

Instead, the auto manufacturers, especially The Big Three, are showing up with paper and Styrofoam versions of their future models which will sit on linoleum floors. The most extravagant attractions, which were often better than the cars, will be completely absent. As The Wall Street Journal points out, "Chrysler LLC has eliminated its popular test track in the basement of the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, for which it once trucked in tons of dirt, rocks and logs and where attendees could go for a short spin in a Jeep. " (See pictures of the Top 10 scared traders.)

The test track really did not cost very much compared to Chrysler's total marketing budget which stretched into the tens of millions of dollars each year. But, it looks bad to have the firm's CEO hot dogging in a 4x4 on artificial sand and boulders when he has just taken billions of dollars from the federal government. Even Ford (F), which has not asked the US for a dime, will not be doing much beyond trucking in its latest models and giving them an extra coat of wax.

The auto companies are losing perspective by chopping what they spend when they come to New York. The only purpose that the car show has ever had was to sell cars. The parts about seeing Broadway shows and drinking too much was always a side-show. The Javits Center has acres of space and can accommodate tens of thousands of people over the period of the event. Cheating potential customers of their one chance to see the best of the industry is an invitation to pushing light vehicles sales down even further. Who wants to buy what the car companies will not even bother to promote?

After decades of mostly good times, being in the car business is going to be a wretched experience for the next few years. Chrysler may not even be at the next show. GM may not show up with its Hummer or Saturn brands. If domestic car sales keep dropping at 40% per year, the 2010 show may be four used Fords on display in the Javits parking lot.

For car companies executives, this was the year to build that dirt track, bring in the beautiful women, go to a Broadway show, and have too much to drink. Why take the party out of the wake?

Douglas A. McIntyre

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