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Going to the (Auto) Show

Tomorrow marks the start of an annual Detroit tradition: The North American International Auto Show.

For nine days, automotive manufacturers and related companies will showcase the best products they have to offer. More than 700 vehicles are on display for the estimated 650,000 people that will flow through the show at Detroit's Cobo Center. (This comes after representatives from the media (5,500) and the auto industry (14,000) preview the event the week before.)

Is the shine gone? Some say the show has dimmed in previous years, but that there is a good feeling about this year's event.

This year, it feels like the region -- especially employees at GM, Ford, Chrysler, Visteon and others -- is holding its collective breath, hoping the domestic vehicle makers will turn heads with their updated product lines, concept cars and related projects.

After the bailouts of GM and Chrysler, some people might doubt these two companies' ability to continue. I have high hopes that seeing products like the Cadillac XTS Platinum concept model – my personal favorite – will get car consumers thinking local next time they go shopping.

The show also gives Cobo and the city a chance to impress the visitors (read: suburbanites) who come in for their annual visit. Maybe a trip to Slow's Bar-B-Q or some of the new retail stores might make them come back a few more times during 2010.

The economic impact for the Metro Detroit area is an estimated $320 million, according to David Sowerby, C.F.A., portfolio manager and chief market analyst at Loomis Sayles & Co. in Bloomfield Hills. That number is down from previous years -- and most of it comes during the previews of the show when the press and suppliers are in the area staying at hotels and eating out.

Photographer John F. Martin has shot more than 5,000 pictures there this week.

"I used to think of the show as a spotlight for the city -- 'Hey! Look at all this great product made by the best automakers in the world!' The light has faded in the last couple years - kind of like oncoming bright headlights that quickly dim as you approach," the Grosse Pointe Woods-based photographer said.

"This year, however, I see it more like a train's light in the distance, slowly growing brighter again. Or maybe a searchlight seeking out the next great wave of cars and technology, specifically greener ways to commute.

"The show also symbolizes the thinning of the industry and the city. Stroll through the GM exhibit this year - the first since shedding Saab, Saturn, Pontiac and Hummer. There are wide open spaces everywhere -- not unlike the streets of the city and cubicles of the headquarters of the Big Three.

"Wide open show, city and future...," Martin added.

So far, a bevy of celebrities and politicians have come through, including Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi (in a pair of four-inch heels…impressive).

“That was real Hollywood,” said Productions Plus CEO Margery Krevsky, whose Bingham Farms talent agency provides dozens of models and spokespeople for the show.

"We've come to Michigan, come to Detroit, to see, listen, and observe," Pelosi said Monday to the Grand Rapids Press. "We go back with great optimism."

Another great quote:

"I'm sort of like a kid in a candy shop," Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told journalists. "I've seen some extraordinary workmanship, quality products, and beautiful products."

You going this year?

UPDATE: The Charity Preview -- also known as the Auto Prom -- sounded great. But the numbers stunk. From The Detroit News:

All the same, despite slashing ticket prices 35 percent -- from $400 last year to $250 -- Charity Preview organizers at the North American International Auto Show fell short of their target of 10,000 in sales.

By the time the box office closed late Friday afternoon, 8,300 tickets had been sold for tonight's Charity Preview, a 22 percent jump over last year's 6,500. In the heady days of 2008, before the crash, the total hit 15,000.

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