When it comes to the fine art of using show business to launch new cars, Chrysler once again ran rings around Ford and General Motors at the North American International Auto Show.
The gulf between Chrysler and its GM competitors was downright yawning.
In the buildup to the launch of the Buick Enclave SUV, GM executives breathlessly (and with a complete lack of irony) cited such product icons as the Gibson Les Paul guitar, Eames chair and Apple iPod MP3 player.
Sorry folks, but no new Buick SUV rates a mention in the same breath as those classics. It was embarrassing.
Ford's Mark Fields gave his usual efficient, businesslike presentation, giving the throng of journalists a good idea that he knows the obstacles facing Ford and he has a plan and some nice products for tackling them.
By contrast, Chrysler let creativity run rampant.
Desperate Housewife Eva Longoria gave the Imperial concept a sendoff to remember. Then came the memorable Tuesday morning show that accompanied the launch of the Dodge Caliber. I would have paid to see the Slava Snow Show clowns ambling across the stage with their glowing red noses, green robes and wacky ears.
As Chrysler execs tried to work through their product presentations, the clowns kept distracting them. Comedian David Spade strolled onstage and made fun of head Chrysler PR man Jason Vines, calling him Larry and saying; "Your name doesn't really matter anyway." Spade even poked fun at the Dodge Neon, saying the Caliber wouldn't have much of a job bettering its predecessor.
Then came the thunderous blizzard that covered journalists in fake snow heralding the appearance of Chrysler's first SUV, the Aspen.
It was stunning. And all of it showed a supremely confident company that doesn't take itself too seriously. The products Chrysler has brought out the last several years have been bolder and more innovative than those of its competitors. Its market share gains are not a coincidence.
Oh, and then there were the CEOs. In contrast to his counterparts Bill Ford and Rick Wagoner, whose presence around the show was scarce, Dieter Zetsche seemed to be everywhere. He was a constant presence at the Firehouse, a bar the company sets up every year in a real Detroit Fire Department firehouse right across the street from the show. The policy at the Firehouse is open door. Zetsche was always around, whether tending bar or just standing and chatting with anyone who cared to walk up and introduce themselves.
He seemed a man in charge of a company in touch with its creative mojo and its customers. The same could not be said for his rivals.
It's in the corporate culture folks.