Baby, It’s Cold Outside

German trains are known for running on time, and so do German parties, apparently.

Media members arriving a tad early for Volkswagen’s Sunday night bash at the fabled Firehouse across from Cobo Hall, where the auto show is taking place, were asked to wait outside.

The place already was crowded, but only Volkswagen staffers – and presumably a few privileged guests – were being allowed in ahead of the 8 p.m. start time, highlighted by the unveiling of the Passat name for the auto maker’s new U.S.-built midsize sedan.

Turned away in the winter cold, several media members resorted to joining valet-parking attendants huddled around a handful of space heaters. As soon as the clock struck 8, and not a minute before, the doors opened.

Small Gesture

The surprises come early for new Bentley CEO Wolfgang Durheimer.

The British auto maker uses the auto show here to hand over its leadership to Durheimer from Franz Josef Paefgen, and the keys to a priceless 8L Bentley serve as a symbol of the transition.

The 8L is considered the quintessential Bentley. It is the second of 10 models built in 1930 and once served as the personal car of founder W.O. Bentley.

A plaque with a scale model of the 8L and a replica of its key go to Durheimer, who takes charge of Bentley in February. "I expected a company car," he says, holding up the plaque. "But not one so small."

Frankly Speaking

With the new General Motors comes a new frankness, as illustrated by North AmericaPresident Mark Reuss during a roundtable discussion with automotive journalists here.

To make a point about spending precious marketing dollars on racing only when it makes sense, Reuss recalls Cadillac's LeMans attempt from earlier in the last decade.

The LMP-class Cadillac Northstar saw few podiums and fared miserably at the competition's namesake race in France.

"It was an absolute disaster," Reuss says, revealing GM did little work internally on the car outside of its exterior design.

"It was horrible. It was awful. A disaster. And then we tried to rationalize it publicly with a marketing program. That does not work."

Going Sonic

GM’s Dan Akerson, attending his first North American International Auto Show as chairman and CEO of the auto maker, gets a Cobo-style welcome.

While helping introduce the new Chevy Sonic subcompact, the infamous Detroit People Mover public transportation howls overhead, an inevitable occurrence during any press conference here. The Mover's tracks run right over top of the aging Cobo Center.

Not missing a beat Akerson quips: "Was that a Sonic boom? I think it was."

Akerson also details some of Chevy's accomplishments over 100 years of auto making, including 200 million units sold during its century of existence and 4.2 million last year in 130 countries.

"That makes one Chevy sold every 7 seconds," he says.