Final Inspection

Can You Keep a Secret in the Auto Industry?

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The charge of keeping future product under wraps becomes more challenging amid rookie mistakes from auto makers and the advent of everyday papparazzi

Growing up, I remember reading Motor Trend and seeing spy shots of future vehicles disguised in camouflage, zebra stripes and other distracting patterns auto makers would use to hide their new wares.

Back then, it still was pretty hard to tell what a refreshed vehicle would look like. Those days appear to be over.

In three notable instances this month, future product was revealed before official debuts at car shows or other planned events. Sometimes the auto makers make these mistakes themselves despite going through the trouble of throwing off the pesky car paparazzi.

For example, the exterior design of the ’15 Ford Edge was accidentally revealed in a PowerPoint presentation Ford made public on its media site. After the gaffe spread through the blogosphere, the auto maker quickly scrubbed the slide and replaced it with one showing the current-generation Edge.

The automotive blog Jalopnik caught hold of leaked photos of the next-generation Cadillac CTS, which was to be officially unveiled at the New York Auto Show. Cadillac itself slipped up and let gawkers get a sneak peek of the CTS in video of cold-weather testing of its forthcoming ELR. Like Ford, Cadillac hastily removed the images, but it was too late.

The biggest cat let out of the bag this month is the Jeep Cherokee. Being the Chrysler guy here, I expect to spill a lot of ink on the Cherokee going forward, and this blog is no exception. Again, Jalopnik caught hold of photos of the Cherokee apparently taken inside Chrysler’s Toledo, OH, assembly plant, which is proof that anyone with a cell phone can be a spy photographer.

With the Edge and CTS incidents in mind, I asked Jeep CEO Mike Manley how he would feel if someone spoiled the surprise of Jeep’s new SUV before the New York show, where it still will make its public debut.

We had this conversation two days before the Cherokee images leaked. Now I feel I’ve jinxed him.

“You always run the risk, but I’m not too worried about it,” Manley said. “Would I be disappointed? I think I would take it very stoically.

 “You can never let it slow your game. People have an avid interest to know what it looks like, to know what its name is, and because of that it’s going to drive interest,” he added. “All you can try to do is protect yourself and protect the vehicle as much as you can.”

If Manley’s pre-reaction reflects that of the rest of the industry, then maybe auto makers have come to terms with the fact it is getting tougher to keep secrets. But that doesn’t mean they should throw in the towel.

We got pretty close to the New York show before the Cherokee leaked, and Manley did say that the level of interest in the SUV would make it that much more difficult to keep it under wraps. Perhaps now the challenge for auto makers is to make the chase more exciting. And who knows? Maybe the advanced publicity will draw even more interest in the eventual public unveiling.

Game on.

afoley@wardsauto.com

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WardsAuto editors share insights and observations on the global auto industry.

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Dave Zoia

As Editorial Director, I oversee much of what goes into WardsAuto.com, enjoying a ringside seat that lets me observe up close just about every facet of the industry worldwide. I have covered the...

James M. Amend

James Amend is an associate editor at WardsAuto.com, covering day-to-day business and product news at General Motors. He also leads coverage of regulatory and environmental issues, as well as the...
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