Thursday, April 17, 2014

Automakers woo media with free food and drink

For press days at the 2014 New York International Auto Show, Infiniti, the luxury division of Nissan, set up a bar and lounge, above, and had servers circulating with hors d'oeuvres. Wine and beer were available.

Cadillac and many others provided an espresso bar, but the maker of luxury cars was alone in offering high-calorie cake and pastries, above.


Nissan caused a media stampede in Manhattan on Wednesday, but Japan's No. 2 automaker didn't unveil a revolutionary new car.

Instead, it offered a simple box lunch to the hundreds of hungry journalists, public relations people and others attending the first press day of the 2014 New York International Auto Show.

Starting with a free breakfast at 7:15 a.m. and ending with a reception at 4:10 p.m., members of the international media could avail themselves of light refreshments, liquor and food supplied by the carmakers they cover.

Thirteen press conferences, complete with food service, were scheduled on Wednesday at the displays of new cars that will open to the public with a sneak preview on Friday.

Porsche showed its new hybrid sports car and a smaller SUV, and offered cheese-and-grilled-vegetable sandwiches, biscotti and coffee from an espresso machine.

The night before, the German carmaker invited the media to The Standard in lower Manhattan, where the journalists enjoyed free beer, sausage and pretzels as they looked over three sports or race cars in the hotel's beer garden.

At the Javits Center on Wednesday, Jaguar offered a private lounge, where journalists could enjoy a wonderful assortment of fresh fruit -- in contrast to Cadillac's artery clogging desserts. 

Kia, unveiling a restyled minivan, had servers circulating with flutes of domestic champagne and glass spoons holding a crunchy winter berry salad with quinoa.

Do young women in short skirts sell cars? This model stood on a rotating platform with a new Jaguar, but didn't say a word.

Hundreds do lunch

Nissan quickly ran out of the Japanese-style box lunches it distributed at 12:25 p.m., but they contained two kinds of chicken, not the sushi many people expected.

At the bar set up by Infiniti, Nissan's luxury division, a woman circulated with a tray of short wooden skewers holding what she described as "tomato, cheese and presto."

She meant "pesto." 

The press day I attended on Wednesday was my first since I covered auto importers based in North Jersey for a daily newspaper in the 1990s.

The food at the auto show was better then.

Toyota unveiled the next-generation Camry, above and below.

Journalists packing up after one of the numerous press conferences on Wednesday.

Lots of free stuff

As a newspaper reporter in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I covered such importers as Jaguar, Volvo, Mercedes-Benz and BMW, all headquartered in northern New Jersey. 

I spent a weekend in Montauk, N.Y., driving a new model from Peugeot, but it wasn't enough to keep the French automaker from pulling out of the United States.

And I was invited to lunch with a Ford Motor Co. analyst in a private room at Le Bernadin, one of Manhattan's best seafood restaurants.

Like many papers, the daily I worked for had rules prohibiting reporters from accepting free food or anything else of value.

But when I road tested a new car for a monthly column, the vehicle was supplied to me at no cost, I could keep it for a weekend or a week, and it was delivered to my home or office and picked up.

Except for Consumer Reports magazine, which buys the cars it evaluates from dealers, the vast majority of evaluations today continue to use free vehicles.

And spending up to a week with a car isn't anything like buying one and getting stuck with an unreliable model or receiving many recall notices.

Today, magazine writers, bloggers and others who write about cars go on all-expenses-paid trips to be the first to report on a new car model or tire.

I recall reading about one such trip to Sicily, where Pirelli unveiled a new tire and invited writers to tear up the roads in sports cars equipped with the high-performance rubber.

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