KEITH CRAIN

After 25 years, product is still king

COMMENTARY
Keith Crain is editor-in-chief of Automotive News
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The modern success of the North American International Auto Show in Detroit was forged 25 years ago with new products.

The die was cast in 1989, when Bob McCurry decided to debut Toyota's luxury brand at the newly designated "international" motor show in Detroit, and Nissan quickly followed up with plans to introduce its own luxury brand.

Once they heard that Lexus and Infiniti would be unveiled in Detroit, journalists from all over the world showed up to see the new products. Hundreds of journalists from Japan came to Detroit to see the latest Japanese entries. Hundreds more came from Europe, primarily Germany, to see just how good the new competitors to Germany's mightiest luxury cars might be.

It has been that way forever. The lifeblood of the motor industry is product. Anyone who thinks product isn't king should see the thousands of journalists who come to Detroit from all over the world. They come to see the newest models and to talk to the global automotive executives here to introduce their cars and promote their companies.

It will be the same in Geneva in March and again in Paris in the fall.

Customers clamor for new cars, the latest and greatest. Woe to the manufacturer who is labeled as having a selection of dated models.

Product is king. Customers all across the globe demand a never-ending array of new models.

There was a time in certain parts of the Communist world that the East German Trabant was the only choice. It was a terrible car. When the wall fell, the company collapsed soon after facing competition for the first time.

Today there are none of those awful Trabants or Wartburgs or Yugos left.

Just about every new car is good, some simply better. But none is plain lousy.

International car shows are always exciting -- not only for the vehicles but for all the executives, who seem to be changing at an even more rapid rate than normal.

The Detroit show has had a buzz about it for a quarter century.

But always remember that it's not the show; it's the cars. The cars are still the stars and always will be.

That's why everyone comes.

You can reach Keith Crain at kcrain@crain.com.


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