Washington DC Auto Show, 2008

Some find it thrilling to sit in a front row at a Sting concert, some find it a thrill to see Spamalot live on Broadway. But today beat them all, seeing a new folk hero: James Press. This morning I had the rare opportunity to sit less then three feet away from James Press, the new Vice Chairman and President of Chrysler LLC while he worked the crowd at the DC Auto Show, after Executive Vice President Steve Landry went through his pitch. Featured vehicles included the new Dodge Journey, on whose shoulders (along with the Viper’s) Chrysler believes the Dodge brand will make a serious foray into Europe.

steve landry

An old hand a dealing with the media, Mr. Press, without notes, bass-heavy piped-in music, or any fanfare, took the mic and walked in front of the 60 or so reporters gathered for the Chrysler briefing. He began his remarks by talking about his move to Chrysler after nearly 30 years with Toyota and he did it with a sense of conviction and honesty.

jim pressMr. Press shared his vision of an independently run “great American company. It’s a new company, a rebirth of a car company that is owner-operated, the likes of which have “not been seen in this country for 50 years...the bones are really good. The people who work at Chrysler know what they are doing. Last year it was the only US manufacturer to maintain market share and in December of 07, it was the only manufacturer to improve sales over previous year.”

He explained that in the short time he has been with Chrysler, they have taken steps to make changes. Over a period of several days his team drove vehicles and came up with a list of 260 things that could be done immediately to improve the styling of the fleet.

Mr. Press also stated that “the dealers are the strongest in the industry” and that they are going to have to work hard during the next year or two because of what economists say. He went on to say “so, don’t listen to economists because saying we’re going to have a recession is a sort of like a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

To his rear, Mr. Press was surrounded by a Durango, Ram, and Journey. Unlike representatives of the other manufacturers, Mr. Press was able to cite the individual characteristics of each of the vehicles, stating what was new for this year, load and towing capacities, and the particular features of the Dodge Journey crossover. His comments about 46 features including the seats, booster seats, and the cooler was a set up for the joke, “you could almost live in there.”

Given the theme of the show, he didn’t miss the opportunity to speak about the two-mode hybrid hemi engine, which will get 40% better mileage; he also mentioned the new aerodynamic grill on the Ram. After going over the specifics, Mr. Press opened the floor to questions, which is highly unusual — nearly every speech ends with the “scrum,” where the pushiest, biggest, or loudest reporters ask questions.

dodge boys

When asked how different Chrysler will be in five years, Press stated, “We will have an empowered work-force ... and, that is going to make us able to bring ideas forth and make cars better for our customers and society. ... It is in our long term interest to make cars that are responsibile to the enviornment, safe and responsive to the consumer.”

dc auto show

Following public questions and answers, Mr. Press stayed on to answer individual questions from The Press. The swarm lasted at least 15 minutes. When things had quieted down and he was left with two reporters. He was gracious enough to invite one of the reporters, a younger woman who had not made it to the center of the scrum, up on to the platform and then gave her an individualized tour of the Journey, showing off the storage space and leg room in the back. In addition to being able to think on his feet, and to knowing far more about Chrysler products than might be expected, Mr. Press seemed like a gentleman. The fact that he would take the time to show a vehicle to an after-event reporter made my heart flutter.

jim press giving a guided tour

After her tour, I had took the opportunity and asked him whether he had considered the future of the Plymouth brand name. Mr. Press, with a twinkle in his eye, said, “I haven’t been asked that one before, and to tell you the truth, lately, I have been so focused on working on the company and with what we have got, but, there may be… in our Voyager line….” And then he asked me, “What do you think?” To which I replied, “There are a lot of Plymouth enthusiasts out there … and a lot of them hang out at allpar.com.”

Earlier report

Safety and Green, or “Engineered for the Future” is the theme of the 2008 Washington D.C. autoshow, with the focus once again on alternatives to gasoline. The highlight was over 20 vehicles participating in the Green Car Parade and the opening of the Green Car Pavillion. The Green Car Pavillion is a wing of an exhibit hall, and an opportunity for consumers to compare production hybrid vehicles (and, in future years, perhaps electrics as well) up close and personal. It is a rare opportunity to see competing vehicles in the same venue. For those who can not make it to the DC Autoshow, a consumer can also get an overview of the hybrid market by logging on to fueleconomy.gov.

Jo Cooper

Morning events included remarks from Mark Rosenkerm, the Chairman of the NTSB, about the shift from having us think about how to mitigate accidents and shift to thinking about prevention. Jo Cooper, Vice President of Toyota, commented that Toyota will be introducing the world’s first open-eye sensor, which will continually scan the upper and lower eyelids and the direction of the head to determine whether a driver’s eyes are open or not. As accidents in the US have leveled to 45,000 per year, the automotive industry and the NTSB are looking for improvements such as use of eye sensors, electronic stability control, and backup sensors to decrease the annual number of accidents (or their impact).

Mr. Rosenkern said that, “30 years ago, before mandatory seal-belts, there were 55,000 car accidents per year with only 125 million vehicles on the road. Today there are over 250 million vehicles on the road with 44,000 accidents and the only way to improve this is by the introductions of new technologies.” In other words, we still have not been able to do much about the loose nut behind the steering wheel, and non-technological solutions, such as better driver training or driver retesting, are not being considered.

A briefing by the Department of Energy included comments by General Kelly, the 28th Commander of the U.S. Marine Corps; Alexander Karsner, Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy; R. James Woolsey, former Director of the CIA; and David Sandalow of the Brookings Institute. The participants emphasized that U.S. dependence on foreign oil is a direct threat to the security of the nation and our society, and the sooner energy efficient technologies move from concept to reality, the better it will be for the nation.

Auto-company briefings included a walk around the Toyota Prius Plug-in. GM showed off their flex-fuel program and the deployment of 300 hydorgen powered vehicles through “Project Driveway,” where 300 drivers have been given vehicles to test drive for the next few month (not unlike Chrysler’s turbine experiment). Mark LaNeve handed out keys to two of the recipients of these vehicles and cited what else is in development including the Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid.

In case you were wondering, this was our Washington correspondent, as photographed by AutoExtremist’s A.J. Morning :

kate kate


The 2007 Washington Auto Show has more than 700 new cars, trucks, mini-vans and sport utility vehicles from over 42 domestic and import automakers. It is in the Washington Convention Center from January 24 - 28, 2007. For directions and more information, visit their web site at http://www.washingtonautoshow.com/

The Convention Center is gigantic, covering two city blocks. The Metro stops right at the Convention Center; note that the entrance for this event is two blocks around to the front of the building.

2007 Washington DC Auto Show

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