Special Coverage

Greater LA Auto Show

LOS ANGELES – Organizers of the Los Angeles International Auto show were embarrassed last year when lax security enabled environmental activists to jump on stage with General Motors Corp. CEO Rick Wagoner and ask him to sign a pledge to make GM a fuel-economy leader by 2010.

The incident proved harmless, and Wagoner got a big laugh from the audience when he thanked the protesters for their concern and then told them, “but now it’s time for you to leave,” as they were hauled off stage by security agents.

Although still not up to the bomb-sniffing dog level of Detroit and many other international shows, security definitely is much tighter at the L.A. show this year. All bags and briefcases are carefully searched and credentials are checked against photo identification before entering.

Nevertheless, a few protestors representing the San Francisco-based group named the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) managed to circumvent security and torture Toyota Motor Corp. and Ford Motor Co. and cause minor disruptions.

Following Toyota’s introduction of its ’08 Sequoia fullsize SUV at the show, a man identified by the Associated Press as Brent Olson approached Bob Carter, Toyota general manager for U.S. sales, with a video camera.

He asked why Toyota has not dropped out of a lawsuit to prevent California from establishing its own fuel-economy standards that are tougher than national Environmental Protection Agency rules.

Carter declined to answer when he noticed Olson was wearing an ID badge apparently stolen from Dave Schembri, president of Smart Cars USA. Olson was led away by police shortly afterwards.

In another effort, RAN created a fake USA Today front page and wrapped it around hundreds of real papers that were distributed at the show and major hotels.

The fake front page lambastes auto makers with headlines suggesting Kermit the Frog has quit Ford’s advertising campaign because of his dissatisfaction with the auto maker’s environmental progress. RAN did run its own logo at the very bottom of the fake page.

USA Today staffers covering the show don’t find the hijacking of their brand and logo amusing and suggest the newspaper’s legal department has been notified.

dwinter@wardsauto.com