Where’s the Beef?
Manufacturers showcased beautiful female models at the Detroit auto show to attract the mostly male media hordes; we think the fair sex deserves some eye candy, too
The most hotly discussed subject at the 2010 North American International Auto Show wasn’t whether Detroit’s Big Three seem to be on the mend (they do), or if small cars are set to make a comeback in this country (they are). Instead, it was the conspicuous return of “booth babes”: attractive female models hired by automakers to act as window dressing for the vehicles they are trying to promote. That automakers had so overtly returned to employing sex appeal sparked frequent discussion among the pear-shaped, addle-minded and mostly male press corps in the Motor City.
As a card-carrying member of that fraternity, I applauded the efforts of the automobile manufacturers -- especially Chrysler/Fiat. I can’t tell you how many of my fellow journalists asked (all with big grins on their pudgy little faces, might I add) if I had seen the “Fiat twins,” and they weren't referring to the pair of 500s sitting on the floor (though also not a euphemism -- they were referring to, literally, a set of twins acting as models). My answer was, yes, I had seen them, and they were spectacular. Some may consider the whole thing fairly sexist, I know, but I am not alone in my admiration for these lovely ladies.
Justin Hyde of the Detroit Free Press dedicated a whole piece to the return of "booth bootie" to the auto show circuit here in the U.S. yesterday. Autoblog got in on the act with an entire slide show dedicated to the models. There's even an entire Web site dedicated to them called Sirens of Chrome. It chronicles the history and allure of auto show models (the female kind, not those clad in sheet metal).
While somewhat supercilious (just like this article), Hyde’s story does bring up one really good point: Women account for a large share of car buyers -- and by some metrics, the largest share by far. According to a 2007 study by CNW Marketing Research, women purchase more than 46 percent of all new vehicles and, more significantly, influence more than 80 percent of all automotive sales. That adds up to about $80 billion worth of business for the auto industry as a whole.
So where’s the eye candy for those with XX chromosomes? We can see keeping the female models on the floor for the mostly male auto press during media preview days, but what about when the floor opens up to the general public?
Well, guilt got the best of us here at Exhaust Notes, so we thought we’d replace some of the ladies with lads, and let the fair sex gawk for a while. Enjoy the show.
The Model: Sporting a sparkly minidress and killer smile, this leggy model fronted the Chrysler Delta hatchback
The Car: Once Fiat took an interest in Chrysler, many figured it wouldn't be long before Chrysler-branded Fiat products would show up in the U.S. Now the first one is here, as Fiat subsidiary Lancia has rebadged its Delta hatchback as a Chrysler. In Europe, the Delta is offered with five engines, three gasoline- and two diesel-powered, all of which are inline 4-cylinder engines. Fiat has committed to building a 1.4-liter Multi-Air 4-cylinder engine in the U.S. for Fiat and Chrysler products, a version of which would be a good candidate to power the Chrysler Delta.
The Male Replacement: Slick and slightly exotic, but with an overpowering air of the practical, the Chrysler Delta would probably attract a sizable female audience with "Brick" and "500 Days of Summer" star Joseph Gordon Levitt standing next to it.
The Model: Blondes are supposed to have more fun, or so I am told. This one looks ecstatic standing next to the all-new Audi Detroit Show Car e-tron.
The Car: Audi's newest electric car might have the same name as the one unveiled at the 2009 Frankfurt Motor Show in September, but it's quite different. Unlike the first e-tron, which was based on Audi's R8 supercar, the so-called Detroit Show Car e-tron looks nothing like any model in Audi's current lineup. Two electric motors with a combined power rating of 204 horses and a jaw-dropping 1,954 lb-ft of torque provide enough pep to get the small 2-seater to 60 mph in less than six seconds. The Detroit Show Car is 250 pounds lighter than the previous e-tron as well. One common denominator between the two is that they're both drop-dead gorgeous.
The Male Replacement: The e-tron has muscle to spare and can really move. Who better to sell Audi's newest concept supercar than action star Channing Tatum, who plays the iconic superhero in the frenetic, explosive popcorn flick "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra"?
The Model(s): In the center of Chrysler’s massive display, the “Fiat Twins,” clad in matching skintight outfits, expertly hawked a pair of 2011 Fiat 500s.
The Car: Fiat didn’t hold a press conference to unveil the U.S. version of the sporty 500, but it did have two Euro-spec cars on the show floor to illustrate that the car is coming to America. Due late this year, the tiny 500 will be powered by a 100-horsepower 1.4-liter 4-cylinder engine with Fiat’s Multi-Air variable valve timing technology. The car will be sold through select Chrysler dealers, mostly in urban markets. The rest of the details haven’t been announced, but the Fiat 500 is sure to appeal to hip buyers just like the lovable MINI Cooper. In addition, the Italian automaker hinted that a battery-powered 500 might be in the works. Stay tuned for more details.
The Male Replacement: Seeing how many U.S. consumers still have an aversion to small, zippy cars, I was originally going to put up images of the Jonas Brothers. But the formidable Fiat 500 deserves better, so instead the mighty minis get "That '70s Show" and "What Happens in Vegas" star Ashton Kutcher. Why? Because he's pretty lightweight and hard to take seriously, but in the end you probably kind of like him despite yourself. Also, he has a twin brother, Michael (not pictured).
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