The debuts of two Japanese luxury car brands -- Lexus and Infiniti -- at Detroit's first "international" auto show in 1989 succeeded in igniting interest, curiosity and buzz about the ventures.
But unknown to consumers, analysts and media who visited Cobo Hall that January was how gargantuan the brand launches really were -- and how much last-minute hand-wringing went on.
Dealers were still being recruited and vetted -- and in some cases, still trying to understand what the new franchises were proposing. There were unresolved naming issues and market research questions. The U.S. project teams for both companies were still working out of temporary digs as they felt their way through the startups.
But all that was behind the scenes.
Detroit's dealers who control the annual event wanted to push the show's recognition factor beyond their local Buick and Chrysler customers. Renaming the show an "international" event required Detroit's automakers and dealers to grudgingly cede front-page attention to their ever-stronger Japanese competitors.
The timing couldn't have been luckier. During 1988, it became known that Toyota and Nissan intended to move in a gutsy upscale direction. The Detroit auto dealers wanted to lay claim to the introduction of those brands.