Rabid Journalists, Corporate Espionage, and Free Puff Pastries: DriverMod visits the Detroit Auto-show

When the site you currently peruse came into existence on December 22, 2015, we immediately decided on one short-term goal – nab press passes to the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS). For years, it has been known as the hub of the North American automotive world; whenever anything huge breaks, it breaks here. I had grandiose images of Chevrolet pulling the sheet off the new, mid-engined Corvette ZR1, Toyota releasing a production version of their FT-1 concept dubbed the Supra, and listening to the twin-turbo swan song of the Ford GT Lemans racer. Worst case, if none of that happened we would be treated to free food and given important looking press passes.

After a short application process, our two-week old car journal was accepted. Our Acura RDX was loaded up and we made the downright treacherous journey to the border in the midst of a January blizzard. The always friendly border patrol officers hardly flinched when we announced that we’re journalists en-route to the Detroit auto show, and we carefully made our way through the crowded American streets. We had our shiny green press passes, and walked into NAIAS.

Everywhere, manufactures did their best to one up each other. Audi had a free sandwich table with coffee and pastries, Ford gave out jelly beans that matched the colours of the Ford Fusion, and BMW employees stuffed USB keys loaded with BMW paraphernalia into our pockets. Buick also offered a free bar along with a balcony overlooking the conference center, which was a perfect vantage point for watching the Infiniti press conference. Naturally, everything from the humble Kia Forte to the incredible Ford GT was waxed to a mirror finish.

First stop was the Chevrolet press conference, where it showed off the new Chevrolet Bolt. While being a boring econobox, with 200 miles of range for around $30,000 (after tax incentives), it was interesting, and the press certainly took notice. Following the conference reporters swarmed the stage like a rabid horde in a desperate attempt to squeeze information out GM CEO Mary Barra, pushing her helplessly up against the car, while others went around to the other side in an attempt to force the cars doors open. When reminded by Chevrolet representatives that the doors of the vehicle are to stay shut, one reporter made a laughable attempt to claim he didn’t understand English.

Meanwhile, Ford was busily hyping up its mammoth press conference, which it had rented out an entire baseball stadium for. We came early, got good seats and sat eagerly awaiting the arrival of something awesome. It never came. Ford executives discussed company growth and plugged in key words such as “electric vehicles” and “autonomous driving.” They brought American Idol sweetheart Ryan Seacrest to the stage to discuss Ford’s future in the “mobility” market, and occasionally read jokes off a teleprompter. Finally, after what felt like an eternal build up, they unveiled a smartphone app. (Cue the crickets). Called Ford Pass, it allows users to remote start their car and lock/unlock their doors, share vehicles on a lease, and collect points at various places (similar to a credit card program). We were underwhelmed when the not-so-new 2017 Ford Raptor and Fusion rolled onto the stage, while the Ford GT LeMans racer was left in the lobby next to coat check, like some sort of sideshow unworthy of proper attention. We weren’t impressed.

Corporate  espionage was everywhere. Hyundai employees eagerly hunched over Infiniti’s new 3.0 L turbo-charged V6, destined for their gorgeous Q60 coupe. The Japanese spied on the Germans, the Germans spied on other Germans; detailed notes were taken and measuring tape was brought out. Fiat Chrysler hired guards to keep company representatives from the stage where the new Chrysler Pacifica minivan sat, a car which nobody cared about. This probably meant one of two things; either this magical new van harbored some super-secret tech (I envisioned the Pacifica growing a set of wings and flying into the sunset, as the first one left a dealer lot carrying a family of five) or Fiat Chrysler hired people for the soul purpose of being dicks.

"It has a turbo! No - two turbos!"
“It has a turbo! No – two turbos!”

Among other important journalistic work we conducted, such as spending copious amounts of time on the Mazda Miata Cup-Car simulator, we decided to discover just how much various company representatives actually knew about the cars they represented. A Mazda representative, for example, asked me if the Miata was FWD. On the other hand, a model at Porsche impressed us with her knowledge of the horsepower ratings of each new 911 turbo, their acceleration numbers, and the weight reduction the 911 GT3 went through, and even right down to the name of its paint.

There was plenty of awesomeness to be seen in Detroit. The problem however, is that DriverMod is committed to documenting car culture and auto shows simply aren’t that. The press preview of an auto show is corporate – full of talk of financial matrixes and expected sales growth, autonomous vehicles and bad mouthing the competition. None the less, being obliged to document the show, here’s a super condensed summary of NAIAS 2016:

  • Infiniti released the Q60; a luxury sport coupe that produces 400hp from a twin-turbo 3.0 l V6, with no manual option.
  • The BMW M2 looks sexy as hell and starts at $51,700.
  • Porsche unveiled the new 911 Turbo and it looks like every other 911.
  • Honda released the Ridgeline pick-up truck which has speakers in the bed for rural bonfire parties, despite rural folk refusing to buy a Japanese truck. It is also only FWD or AWD, which is sacrilegious as we all know pickup truck drivers use their trucks to tow lots of heavy objects.
  • Kia unveiled the new Forte, which is pretty much exactly like the old Forte. Kia also released the Telluride Concept, a luxurious SUV with all kinds of crazy tech and suicide doors.
  • When not fully shut, the door to the Porsche Panamera shuts itself. Seriously. A robotic mouse pops out of its hole and pulls the door closed.
  • The Acura Precision Concept looks stunning in every way. 
  • As beautiful as the Ford GT is in photos, it looks drop dead gorgeous in real life. We stood looking at it with tears in our eyes as a Ford rep nodded knowingly and passed out Kleenex.
  • Toyota discussed the development of a new satellite information system, which amounts to the same features as Waze.

The trip to the North American International Auto Show ended with a reminder of what car culture really is as I joined several mates in a snowy parking lot in “Mexico ” for some good old fashioned petrol-head hooliganism. Car culture isn’t about concept cars, horsepower numbers, or plush interiors; it is about making friends, building something that’s true to who you are, and having an adventure along the way. We see cars as a blank canvas, and in that regard auto shows seem like incomplete projects; ride heights, horsepower ratings, and style, are all painfully timid.

Photo: Brandon Woods
Photo: Brandon Woods


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