DETROIT -- For months it seemed clear that the talk of this year's Detroit auto show would be the Ford F-150, whose aluminum-bodied redesign highlights the radical paths automakers are following to meet fuel-economy standards.
But by the time Ford herded a few thousand dealers, suppliers and journalists into the Detroit Red Wings' arena, where five F-150s crashed through a set spanning the length of the ice last Monday morning, it had already been upstaged by the world debut of General Motors' all-new 2014 CEO.
A half-hour before the F-150 introduction, ABC's "Good Morning America" introduced its millions of viewers to Mary Barra, the first woman to lead a major automaker. At a GM event the night before, Barra was mobbed by reporters and photographers, some of whom fell over furniture and banged into a column before security whisked her away after a few minutes.
"You guys have rocketed her to superstar status overnight," Alan Batey, GM's incoming North American president, told reporters later.
Barra's sudden stardom poses a unique opportunity for GM, which is eager to put the era of "Government Motors" in the past and to attract new customers at a time when women influence a majority of car-buying purchases. GM has been inundated with requests to interview Barra from several hundred media outlets, including Good Housekeeping, Marie Claire and Finnish national television (she's part Finnish).
At the same time, allowing too much focus on Barra risks marginalizing her leadership abilities and the vehicles that GM wants to show off.
"What GM does with the attention is going to be key," said Anne Belec, a former global marketing chief for Ford Motor Co. "This is an opportunity to open some doors, to get consideration from various groups and segments and consumers that maybe in the past were not really an option or on the radar screen."