The NAIAS Showed Me That The Enthusiast Is a Dying Breed

If you haven’t noticed, we were at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit this week. The rest of the boys/men/team/squad have done a few of these types of events before, but my only exposure to big auto shows was the Kansas City one. Which is not quite on the same tier. So I was a bit broadsided by the scale and scope of the event, and got a bit overwhelmed. But now that I’m home, and have had some time to process, I’ve realized something.

The auto industry does not give a runny, caffeine induced, fiber deficient shit about us.

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I sat in on a few press conferences, in which the major companies went over their corporate philosophies, and featured their newest and greatest cars. Many important things were discussed. But oddly enough, actual driving wasn’t really on the menu at most of these. Ford rented out an arena, filled it with a dozen teleprompters, and made their best attempt at running an evangelical church. All of that to discuss…a truck. And a taxi. And a taxi van. And environmentalism. And bicycles. And some other trucks that they may make at some point but won’t show yet.

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We also had Chevrolet. Surely they would dazzle us. The home of the Corvette and the Camaro would absolutely have some new muscle to stunĀ us with. Instead we got a lot of talk about active lifestyles and third row seating. We got an SUV, a crossover, another SUV, and an electric car. Astounding. Yet the assorted media lapped that right up. As soon as they were let off the leash, it was a wave of white guys in white shirts, just scampering and scurrying over the Equinox. Or the Traverse. Whatever.

Toyota erected a shrine to the new Camry, proudly proclaiming that it was the best selling car in America.

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That later got removed from the shrine, and placed on an alter in front of a sea of appliances that slowly deflated my soul.

In our very small world, we like to believe that every auto journalist is out there, dicing it up on the track, hyper scrutinizing every gram of unsprung weight. But they’re not. As much as I respect guys like Torchinsky, Okulski, Smith, and George, they are the minority. For every Chris Harris, there are dozens of small town reporters and lifestyle bloggers, eager to regurgitate the new Hyundai press release and collect their free breakfast.

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While there were small bastions of performance around the facility, particularly among Audi, Mercedes, and Dodge, it is easy to see the tide turning. Enthusiasts are the vocal minority. We froth and rage for what we want, and then the manufacturers lose money on us. Every single publication raved about the GT86 twins when they debuted, but sales have been continuously declining for a while now. Kia blew everyone away, by debuting a new performance sedan, and people are already worrying if it will sell. The internet loves the Viper and the SS, yet both of those are now gone as well.

We are no longer the target demographic for either manufacturers or press. Take the Nissan Rogue. You won’t, because you don’t care about it. And neither do I, to be honest. But the press conference to launch it was crammed so full of media and industry insiders that you couldn’t even see the stage. Standing room only, easily twenty people deep. For a crossover that I know literally nothing about.

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Meanwhile, a short ways away, sat a pair of Singer 911s. These are rolling examples of obsessive compulsive designed pornography. I’ve never seen one in person, and could have spent the entire day poring over the details. This tiny Michelin booth, tucked off to the side, had probably a million dollars worth of machinery, between those two cars. So surely it was packed all day. It certainly was all over Instagram. But no. I never saw more than half a dozen people there at any one time. You’d have two or three nerds creaming their chinos, and then a couple people off to the side discussing where Kia had taken them to dinner.

As much as it pains me to say, especially as someone relatively new to this, we are becoming dinosaurs. And not in the fun, Chris Pratt wrassling kind of way. The new car enthusiast is not interested in cars. They are interested in technology, and design, and economics. But it doesn’t need to be this way. Look at vinyl shops and coffee shops. Yes, they are full of hispters who can be annoying. Sure, there are more efficient and cheaper ways to get your music or caffeine, but people are learning to appreciate the craftsmanship and the process itself. Why can’t this be translated to cars?

We can show people the inherent joy of driving for it’s own sake.

We can show people that there are beautiful rolling works of art available, and they should be appreciated as such.

We can show them that a car doesn’t have to just be an appliance that answers your phone and holds your latte.

So, I’m begging you, we need your help to show the world that cars still matter.

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