Where is Everybody?

Regular attendees of the Lexus press conference here were surprised to see empty seats in Cobo Hall’s Riverview Ballroom just minutes before show time Monday, where the all-new HS 250h hybrid was to be unveiled.

A journalist arriving 20 minutes early in previous years would have had to stand.

The presentation, which began five minutes late, offered a minimum of blaring music and lacked the usual Japanese executive lineup.

Lexus head honcho Mark Templin even had to give the audience permission to clap after the HS 250’s unwrapping.

No Sniffing

There also appears to be a glaring lack of security at this year’s 2009 North American International Auto Show.

In previous years, media and auto execs looking to get onto the Detroit show floor were greeted by police with bomb-sniffing dogs. Show staff carefully inspected all bags.

Not so this year. No police, no bag checks, no dogs, no sniffing: another casualty of the recession.

Ditch the Gloom

Kia stages a decidedly non-low-key press conference Monday, introducing its Soul’ster concept to loud music, bright lights, cheerful on-screen graphics and a group of actors holding signs and tossing out beach balls.

There were no former National Basketball Assn. stars, as there were during last year’s Borrego SUV unveiling, but it still was an impressive recession-be-damned presentation.

Frank Talk From Bob

Bob Lutz, GM’s vice chairman, who knows the cost-cutting route by heart from his days at Chrysler, says removing layers of bureaucracy inevitably leads to a sounder business.

“A period of financial crisis forces us to separate ourselves from things that are nice to have and must have,” he says. “It sort of clears away the clutter and clears away the people that are working on the clutter. And what we found at Chrysler was the more we reduced, the simpler thing got and the more we got done.”

Lutz cites GM’s show stand here as a perfect example, which in years past has spent upwards of $500,000 on a divisional display. This year, with all that excess stripped out, the auto maker probably spent half that.

“And our stand has never looked better,” he says. “It comes from not having the money to do dumb things with it.”

– compiled by Barbara McClellan