On the morning of Tuesday, March 26th, hosts Kelly Ripa and Michael Strahan pulled the wraps off the 2014 Chevrolet Camaro on their eponymous morning talk show, mere hours before the start of the 2014 New York Auto Show. Across town, and on the same day, Cadillac unveiled the CTS—arguably the most anticipated car of the show—at a private event in the Frederick P. Rose Hall in Midtown. (They might not have needed to, anyway: photos leaked a day early.) Audi previewed its 2015 A3 and S3 sedans—cars that won't go on sale until next summer, but that's a rant for a different day—that evening, and for one night only! The two cars didn't even squish the tiles on Audi's stage the next day, which was probably convenient as Audi chose to skip a lavish press conference. It did have plenty of Warsteiner on tap, however.
Then the auto show began anew on a beautiful East Coast morning as journalists streamed in to the Javits Center by taxi and train and subway and chauffeured Land Rover and rickshaw and tramp steamer, bleak and bleary-eyed and in perpetual search of coffee, ready to spend the next two days writing about new cars that have already been announced. And after 6 Starbucks Venti lattes and about 3 plates of deep-fried crab cakes (the chosen hors d'oeuvres of New York, apparently) later, the one incessant, nagging question floated across our minds, and into the ether: if everything's been unveiled, previewed, and leaked already, why even have an auto show?
Yes, why have an auto show? Why fly across the country to rehash the same press releases, attend the same precisely choreographed press conferences, talk to PR teams who mete out the exact amount of information they were briefed to say, and see the same cars that had clawed their way out of an errant email attachment? Why bother having an unveil if the car will merely be shown the day before to a handful of specially-invited journalists—out of the thousands, internationally, that attend these things—and will be across the Internet by morning? The surprise, the furtive secret, is what we talk about in hushed and reverent tones of auto shows past: Citroën in Paris in 1955, Lamborghini at Geneva in 1966, Dodge in Detroit in 1989, Holden in Sydney in 2005. We miss those days, we hanker for the romance, we want our minds blown, we want to interview a brash CEO like Bob Lutz, but we'll never get those back.
But most of all, we just miss the surprise.
There were some surprised, truth be told. Subaru showed off a WRX concept that managed to break away from its proud tradition of ugliness but will fortunately disappoint when it enters production, burdened as it will be with platform readjusting, gawky proportions, and door handles. Chevrolet followed up on the Camaro with exactly what the world needed: a faster version, stripped-out and barely street legal, with a Corvette Z06 engine and one speaker—exactly like the one buried in the backyard behind your uncle Jimbo's house. Natty Boh sold separately. Not that GM would condone drinking and driving; and besides, nobody at the New York Auto Show was driving except for the fresh-faced youths in golf carts that were shuttling journalists from the media center across the Javits Center, so encumbered were they with traversing the elephantine hall with cameras and notepads and laptops and battery packs in tow, like Hannibal across the Alps.
But that was about it for genuine whoa that came out of left field, time to tweet with lots of hashtags surprises. The WRX leaked on Tuesday, two days before its unveil, an occurrence so common it's practically built into the auto show schedule, and sometimes even "leaked" by carmakers themselves. They haven't found out that that's, uh, usually called a "preview." Surprises are tough to pull off, leaks are inevitable, and the Internet gives us the ability to hunt for information in the strangest of places—if you had told someone that you knew what the C5 Corvette looked like before its January 6th, 1997 unveiling because you had trawled through the USPTO archives, you'd be arrested for breaking into a federal building. The Z/28 was a successful surprise, but just barely: as a trim level it simply built off the fevered rumors of the past, while the entire 2014 Camaro range was teased—yes, there's that odious word again—by GM itself.
Manufacturers don't have to play this game. Auto shows are nothing if not for the surprise, which is the overarching narrative that gives our "War On Teasers" such merit. Teasers play to the carefully orchestrated PR game that unbiased journalists want to rise above; private unveils before press days are as un-egalitarian as it gets. (Ask the guy that's been trying to get into a Jaguar event for the past 5 years.) But it's the auto show press conference that holds the most opportune moment for a big surprise, a grand unveil: something to send the SEO buzzing and the hashtags spinning around and across the world, carrying with it our unbridled enthusiasm and all-too-human love of drama. Information should fly out with a bang, not with a trickle as it does through weeks of insipid teasers. Where else to do so than at an auto show, in front of a captive audience?
Because when the CEO stops blathering, the celebrities get off-stage, the lights go down, the music swells, the lasers start flickering, and the curtain folds back, it's almost enough to make one excited for the 2014 Toyota Highlander.