The Cult of Cars, Racing and Everything That Moves You.
We may earn a commission from links on this page

Everything That's Awful About The Detroit Auto Show

We may earn a commission from links on this page.

There is much confusion and misinformation surrounding the actual definition of the phrase 'pure-joy.' To many it is a pallid cliché constructed around what they perceive as being their perfect pastime – their moment of uncontaminated joy. But I can now de-bunk this nonsense, for 'pure-joy' is actually not a perfect cappuccino or Olivia Munn lending manual assistance as you knock-out a sub seven-minute Nordschleife lap in a LaFerrari.

Pure joy is a hack-mate casually saying at the end of a phone call: "You going to Detroit?"


And me replying: "Nope."

Get in there – no Detroit for me!!

Have you been to the Detroit Auto Show or the NAIAUSFFFFTZZZ, or whatever weird acronym is applied to the weirdest event I've ever visited? It's fucked-up. Like choosing to have your wedding in a graveyard.


Because as we all know Detroit has both lived and died. In biblical terms it's probably just in the phase of pushing that large rock to one side and re-emerging, but it still feels mostly dead. We must remember that the modern, mass produced motorcar has now been with us long enough for entire cities to have sprung-up, thrived, faltered and failed around it. And there's no shame in that. People often confuse Detroit's catastrophic plight as some sort of hamartic failure of its own making, but that's balls. Detroit is simply a metaphor for the brevity of specific mechanical technologies throughout the human era of this planet. Times changes, practices change, technologies change; even the Corvette sometimes changes. People move on.

And within this sprawling industrial hinterland that lurks like some rotting '50s Buick, you choose to host the event that celebrates the future direction of personal transportation? I'm sitting here spluttering with forced similes, harboring the overriding sense that someone, somewhere is having a fucking laugh.

My first visit to the Detroit show was, I think, 2007. We landed, messed about, found our bags and then took a guided tour of what appeared to be downtown Beirut. Being sensible and grown-up for one minute, it's truly shocking to witness the devastation the collapse a monopoly industry can have even in the world's richest, most advanced democracy. Somehow it just felt wrong being there to film shiny new cars when the majority of the properties around the exhibition halls were worth buttons because so few of those cars were being built in the immediate area.

If the Detroit concept as the place to launch cars is culturally tasteless, the timing is even more fantastical. Because the motoring world likes to pretend it's busy (me included) it tends to package a motor-show event with something practical. Like driving a new car, or sampling a new tire. Or learning how to freeze your nuts off.


The Detroit show is next week and, unless Al Gore and the other fuckwits can persuade the Global Warming Goblin to get his shit together, I can tell you that Detroit will be colder than Daniel Craig's post-coital stare. So other than doing some ice driving, or trying a new winter tire, or learning how to make sorbet, there's nothing you do on your trip to the NAIIIZTAWT, other than visit the show itself.

Should you be forced to do such a thing, I warn you that your main concern will be temperature management. Detroit residents are accustomed to a wind that can penetrate any known shield, but we pussy Europeans are not. The walk to the halls therefore requires you to wrap up like a nomadic Eskimo and even with such protection you'll be half-dead when you finally unstick your frozen fingers from the door to the building when, BOOOOOF, a wall of hot, fetid air containing the traces of a thousand different, squalid journo-farts hits you smack in the chops. It's like getting off a plane in Doha, in the middle of a hot summer, and having an elephant guff into the cabin just as the door opens.


And now you begin the sweat phase. Your over-compensating body-thermometer continues feeding heat energy to your pits and crotch, which in turn begin seeping moisture faster than you can remove garments. And then the lady wants to check that you haven't got a bomb in your iPhone and the beads sluice from your forehead and chin and then the driving license photo doesn't look like you as the shower of water blends through your T-shirt into your jumper - and then the bleak realization comes that you will have to spend the following seven hours wearing the boxer shorts that are already sweatily climbing up into the crevice that separates your buttocks. Great.

And now you feel well prepared to go and do some car journo business.

"I think I'll go and have a look at the new Ferrari", I normally think, "Because I'm so pissed at having been frozen and boiled in the space of seven minutes." But last time I couldn't because Ferrari didn't seem to be at the Detroit Motor Show. Can a motor show be a motor show without a Ferrari stand? That's worth further thought another time.


I once had visions of the great Detroit Auto Show. I'd seen the photos in the magazines: the booth girls, the flash-bulbs, the endless V8s. And being a Limey I'd assumed that because everything actually was bigger and better in America, the American Motorshow would be the Tower Records of car shows - The Towering Inferno! - but it wasn't. It was way smaller than any of the big European shows. And much metal seemed to be missing that first year.

Each year I've been there were key brands missing, presumably because they thought that lumping all of their new chattels to the place that signifies the death of the last chapter of the US motor industry isn't unlike giving birth in a mortuary.


Or maybe it was the slightly rickety underpinnings of the whole place? I have to say the one aspect of Detroit I actually liked, other than the friendly people, was the sense that it was part village fete and part commercial event, odd sections of overlayed carpet and, like some fading country house, the occasional hole. This shabbiness appeals to me, but it must have the opposite effect on some swanky Euro-brand.

Thankfully you clever people now have the rapidly growing LA Auto Show and SEMA is a phenomenon all on its own.


My point is this: your country remains the car capital of the world. Forget that China may buy a few more over the next decade – the motor car is cultural furniture in the US, and you buy more of the type of cars that are worth buying than anyone else, so you deserve to have the biggest, bestest car show in the world. You even have a large tract of land that doesn't really have a winter, in which I'm told the Eagles once stayed in a hotel and in which one in seven sportscars made on the planet are sold.

And yet each year the remaining stragglers unpack their memories and make the pilgrimage back to a place that no longer signifies the future. I know it brings the town some much needed cash, but to my eyes it's an insincere form of charity that will only reduce to nothing over time. Much better to encourage other industries and allow Detroit to re-invent itself in a post-automobile age.


I'd rather stay at home. I think most of my colleagues would, too. But the idea of a free seat at the pointy end of a plane to get away from the wife and kids after Christmas is just too appealing for most.

Happy new year all.

Illustration: Sam Wooley