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The Garage: Focus on Autos

Porsche puts brakes on Detroit show

June 23, 2007|Martin Zimmerman | Times Staff Writer

For most automakers, there is no substitute for the Detroit Auto Show.

Porsche begs to differ.

The German automaker created a stir recently when it announced it was pulling out of the Detroit confab -- officially known as the North American International Auto Show -- next January.

Along with similar events in Tokyo, Paris and Frankfurt, Germany, the annual Detroit show is considered a can't-miss affair for automakers, parts suppliers, critics and anyone who just likes to be around freshly minted metal.

So the withdrawal of a high-profile participant like Porsche didn't go unnoticed. Noisy auto-industry critic Peter DeLorenzo of Autoextremist.com ranted about Porsche's "holier-than-thou arrogance" and predicted that the automaker eventually would come crawling back to the Motor City.

Porsche explained that it was trying to get more bang from its advertising bucks by focusing less on media-heavy "reveals" of new models and concept cars at auto shows and more on customer-centric marketing.

"The direction we're going is toward more targeted efforts that directly interface with the customer," Porsche spokesman Tony Fouladpour said. "Traditionally you do that at auto shows, but we're looking at nontraditional ways to do it, such as dealer events where people can actually drive the cars."

And then there's that old marketing maxim about going where your customers are.

Only 292 of the record 36,095 Porsches sold in the U.S. last year were bought in Michigan, compared with more than 8,800 in California. There are 11 Porsche dealers in L.A. and Orange County, three in the greater Detroit area.

Given that auto shows are a major way for companies to show support for their local dealers, Porsche's decision makes sense, said Jim Hossack, an analyst with AutoPacific Inc. in Tustin.

"You dig where the gold is," he said.

Indeed, the L.A. Auto Show remains a must-attend for Porsche, even as it has cut by more than half the number of North American auto shows in which it participates.

In an effort to raise its profile, Los Angeles last year moved its auto show from early January to early December to gain greater separation from the Detroit event. The move paid off in much greater press attention -- which the participating companies crave -- but public attendance was down 17%.

The operators hope another move this year, to Nov. 16-25, will boost attendance. And they see Porsche's decision to skip Detroit as another potential positive for the L.A. show.

The automaker's "moving out of Detroit only means that the L.A. show will gain in importance," general manager Andy Fuzesi said.

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Exhibit for lovers of really small cars

If you're big on small cars, it might be time to drive over to the Petersen Automotive Museum on Wilshire Boulevard.

The museum's latest exhibit showcases microcars, the tiny vehicles that rose to popularity in the years before and after World War II.

We're talking seriously small. Among the featured cars is the German Messerschmitt Tg 500 (yes, that Messerschmitt), a '50s-era micro that weighed 397 pounds and relied on a 9-horsepower, kick-started engine to achieve a top speed of 56 mph.

The micros were shunted aside as drivers opted for roomier, more powerful rides. But museum director Dick Messer says their spirit survives in the recent push toward smaller, more fuel-efficient cars such as the Mini Cooper and the Smart Fortwo.

The exhibit, which opens today, runs through Feb. 3. For more information, call 323-930-CARS or visit www.petersen.org.

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Next week in Highway 1

* Automotive critic Dan Neil reviews Toyota's big Tundra Crewmax, with the I Force V8.

* Throttle Jockey columnist Susan Carpenter takes a moped, the Tomos ST, for a spin.

* Warren Brown reflects on Ford's recent high marks in a consumer satisfaction survey.

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martin.zimmerman@latimes.com

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