Detroit Panic hits NYC: Americans voice frustration with auto industry at car show

An auto show is a gathering of car lovers who come together and check out the latest models, debuts, classics, and concept cars from automakers. It's a fun place to meet, stay up to speed on the latest technology, and network with other car lovers. Well, that was before the bailout. The current NYC auto show has turned from a platform for automakers to toot their own horns (no pun intended) to a hostile public grilling from unhappy consumers frustrated at GM and Chrysler's bailout bungling.

Last Friday Chrysler debuted its Dodge Circuit, one of five electric cars it's developing, which in normal times would be news to herald. But as the New York Times reports, after a lovely blond gave her spiel, one man in the crowd started heckling her. Donald Han, an accountant from Queens, berated, "Why now? How come you've got to nearly go bankrupt before you come out with a car like this?" Too bad Mr. Han wasn't at the bailout hearing.Over at the GM booth, a woman blamed the presenter for "the death of American soldiers in Iraq." She reasoned that if GM had made more fuel-efficient cars in the first place, the U.S. would never have needed so much oil, and thus never have gone into Iraq. The presenter was left speechless. Obviously ways to deflect the auto industry/Iraq war link were not part of the presenter's training.

Unfortunately the irony of all this is that most of the presenters have nothing to do with the actual car companies. They are primarily women, hired from marketing and modeling firms, and often know little more than the speeches they're hired to memorize.

Kerri Moss, hired to present a Jeep 4X4 Laredo for Chrysler was recently laid off from her teaching job, and is picking up some cash on the side working the car show circuit. "I try to explain that we're not involved in corporate decisions, so complaining to us doesn't really make a lot of sense," she told the NY Times on handling the crowds. "And if that doesn't work, I tell them we're doing the best we can."

Everyone involved in the auto show circle is in a tough situation. Now is not the time to celebrate cars. Understandably, GM and Chrysler look bad living it up at the auto fair, while simultaneously asking President Obama for $21.6 billion more in loans. And even with the existing loans, consumers can't buy the cars. Automobile sales were down 23.5% from last March. GM stock tanked Monday, on fear it will hit bankruptcy.

But shows like this, to be fair, whether it be for art, fashion, cars, etc. create hundreds of thousands of jobs, which, although temporary, are greatly needed. Certainly the hecklers are angry, but they'd be wiser to voice their concerns to the people who make decisions. And hopefully once the automakers listen, we'll see not just a sparkling electric car presentation, but an influx of sustainable and accessible cars into the marketplace. Affordable cars that decrease our dependence on oil is exactly the kind of news we need to hear from the auto industry right about now.

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