Brands at Auto Show Emphasize Participation for Cautious Consumers

To win favor in the competitive—and challenged—consumer market, brands at the New York International Auto Show are employing user-controlled demonstrations, car-loving canines, and robots in disguise.

By Michael O'Connell April 9, 2009, 3:33 PM EDT

Press test-driving General Motors' Segway prototype

Photo: Roger Dong for BizBash

The 2009 New York International Auto Show kicked off two days of press previews yesterday at the Jacob K. Javits Center, and even though it’s not a particularly busy market for buying, dozens of brands are filling the pared-down displays with participatory elements to engage and educate consumers. Interactive elements, marketing partnerships, and unconventional spokespeople all punctuate this year's show.

Produced by the Greater New York Automobile Dealers Association and helmed by show director Candida Romanelli, this is the largest annual trade show in New York. More than one million attendees are expected to walk the show floor by the time it ends a 12-day run. Auto marketers look at every one of those million as consumers planning to purchase a new car within the next year, and market accordingly.

Set designers for brands such as Toyota, Chevrolet, and BWM all tempered the cavalcade of speeches in favor of interactive video displays, with unique navigation tools like the Toyota Prius set’s ottoman that doubled as a remote control. Other brands, such as Honda, maintained demonstrations starring brand representatives—but with unique twists. For the demonstration of its new, pet-friendly SUV, Honda brought in an Australian cattle dog named Sammy to ascend the dog ramp.

General Motors’ Chevrolet division brought in three cars from the upcoming Transformers sequel at the request of show organizers. Romanelli was so interested in seeing the statue of film character Bumblebee brought from the Chicago Auto Show, she offered Chevrolet several thousand square feet of free space to put up a display. The brand got more than 20,000 email addresses from visitors who had their photos snapped with the robot at the Chicago show alone.

For now, all of the elements are still reserved for press and attendees of tonight's preview gala to benefit the East Side House Settlement. General admission unofficially opens for a public preview tomorrow, and the show runs through April 19.

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