MONTEREY, Calif. -- Every August, about 15,000 of America's wealthiest car buffs stroll the misty golf greens of Pebble Beach in Guccis, sipping chardonnay and admiring lovingly restored, flapper-era Morgans and Rolls-Royces and pre-war Bugattis.
But vintage-schmintage -- the auto industry has business to conduct at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance.
Automakers and vendors have zeroed in on the Pebble Beach lawn party as a golden opportunity. In increasing numbers, they come to take orders for new models, conduct consumer research, pitch business, make news about product plans or just try to conjoin their names with the hard-to-reach moneyed set.
Scott Painter, founder of the online buying site carsdirect.com, hosted an open-air hospitality suite with champagne and hors d'oeuvres. On a large-screen computer monitor, Painter was giving demonstrations of his newest automotive Web site, truecar.com. He proposes to aggregate transaction prices in real time from around the country to give auto dealers and consumers the "true prices" being paid at the moment.
"All the people at all the highest levels we deal with are here," Painter explained, looking out over foggy Monterey Bay and a fairway where thousands of people strolled among Pierce-Arrows, Duesenbergs and Alfa Romeos.
"If we're not accepted in this community, I don't know how we will pull it off," he said.
Other automotive marketers see the same opportunity. Old, faithful attendees still may think of the Concours as a place for antique masterpieces that are auctioned for half-a-million in the blink of an eye. (A 1933 Alfa Romeo 2300 Monza changed hands during the weekend for $6.7 million.)
But now, as one regular noted, waving his hand toward a hillside of tents and platforms and new-product displays that overlooked the weekend gathering, "It's getting a lot more commercial."