As a consequence I was actually off-site working the Chevrolet Ride and Drive most of the event, located offsite at The Pond in Anaheim. I saw very little of the show itself, located about 3 miles down the road at the Anaheim Convention Center. JD also had a Ride and Drive onsite at the show itself for Volvo.
What did I miss: Hummer H3 introduction, Pontiac Grand Prix V8 introduction. Lots of other stuff as well, but that was the significant stuff.
What did I see: `06 Infiniti M45, `05 Infiniti G35 sedan and coupe, `05 Mini Cooper Convertible, `05 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR, the done-in-Lego Volvo XC90 and the XC90 V8, plus plenty of not-new stuff such as the VW Phaeton, Scion tC, Lexus RX330, etc.
The strongest area of interest for me was the `05 G35 changes. Nissan's cheaping-out of the Altima, G35, Quest, and other vehicles' interiors in the last redesign drew piles of criticism. "Fisher-Price" interior quality may be ok in a $15,000 Sentra, but it is unacceptable in a $30,000 G35. I am pleased to say that the G35 interior now is much better than it was before. The pebbly hard-touch plastics are gone. Their replacements aren't always great, but adding just a hint of soft-touch or covering the A-pillars and B-pillars in cloth helped considerably. The best change was in many of the dash pockets-- they have some weight and damping to them now, which really eliminated a large source of "cheap" in the G35. The new wheels and exterior changes are very modest.
The new Mini Cooper convertible was neat. The retro feel is overdone (I preferred the regular Coupe) in the convertible, but the quality of the car isn't bad and the trunk is surprisingly decent. The backseat is a joke, but it (technically) does have legroom...
The Scion tC continues to draw respectable crowds, as it is a looker in the sub-$20k segment. In the sub-$30k segment, the Nissan Altima SE-R looks good but is probably one of the worst values around (you can pick up a G35 for not much more!). Volvo showed the XC90 with their new V8, which should finally make the XC90 a real contender in its SUV segment. Lexus had nothing of note.
I think we gave Acura and Honda the short shift, to my regret. The Accord Hybrid looks to be a very compelling vehicle, while the new `05 Acura RL looks like a driver's car for the first time ever.
Ride and Drive
Located three miles away from the main auto show, we did not know what to expect at the Chevrolet Ride and Drive. The Arrowhead Pond was the primary off-site parking for the Auto Show, complete with regular shuttle bus service, so we actually saw quite a bit of traffic. The event itself...
Total attendance on Saturday was about 500, which was the same as the Volvo event-- very surprising considering they were onsite and we were not. Eight different models were available: Aveo, Cobalt sedan, Equinox, Colorado, Silverado, Silverado Hybrid, Trailblazer, Tahoe, and the SSR. Nothing terribly exciting, as the new Corvette and new Cobalt SS were not present. Tragically we did not have time to drive any of the cars, I suppose it could have been squeezed in, but we didn't! =(
The course had a number of pro drivers supplied by GM R*Works, and the parking lot was big enough to fit a very extensive course, easily twice the size of the Volvo one with speeds hitting 50mph pretty easy from the looks of it. Due to the large size of the course we had almost no problem with lines, since we could accomodate four or more cars on course simultaneously (unlike Volvo's small couse). Aside from a few interesting runs by the pro drivers in the SSR, I did not see anything too daring. At least, no one spun out or got too close to the river. *grins* Tihe course itself looked straightforward: straightaways for acceleration, a few slaloms, and that was it-- I did not see any Miata-sized hairpin turns or anything. Understandably I did not expect them: navigating a Trailblazer or SSR through a tight turn would probably lead to many cone deaths.
Working the event...
... or better known as "Hi, are you here for the Chevrolet Ride and Drive? It's free- test drive any Chevy you want!"
Four groups of people worked the Ride and Drive: experienced people from GM R*Works, including the GM manager, Elizabeth. Jackson-Dawson national employees, including the site manager, Bob. A few outside contractors from a modeling agency to hand out fliers and a few others. Then us-- a mixed group of local JD employees and friends of JD employees brought in to handle the four processing stations: registration, wristbands, paperwork, and prizes. Together there were probably twenty people keeping the event running.
GM R*Works people handled the gift certificates and the actual driving itself, probably ten or so people total. JD supplied the rest, the models, the movers, security, and "us"- the five people working registration tables, registration, exit surveys, and gifts.
After being pointed in by a model greeting the shuttle buses, we greeted drivers and passengers again and explained the paperwork: the liability release and the entry survey, which was done in both English and Spanish (Volvo had more: Korean and Chinese!), and we had one Spanish speaker as a part of our group just in case. I think she used her Spanish maybe three times all weekend. =þ After filling out forms, the registration desk would collect them and issue the appropriate wristbands to drivers and non-drivers; then we would send them over for a breathalyzer test before turning them over to the GM employees actually running the event.
After abusing a few new cars to their satisfaction, we would direct people to fill out exit surveys (also available in Spanish). They would then go to the Chevy people for their free gift certificate ($500 off any new Chevy), then they'd turn in the surveys to us at the gift/exit table and get a free hat or t-shirt or one of other free gifts. Chevrolet also provided brochures for each model as well, which was a nice touch. The flow of people in and out of the event was pretty good, although it was a fairly low volume-- I do not think I am qualified to judge how well it would have worked out with a larger crowd. A nice, easy introduction to the world of Ride and Drives.
This was my first time working a Ride and Drive, and I found it was fairly relaxed and smooth, unlike the much more crowded Toyota or Volvo events. The main improvement to make would be separate entry and exit tents, making it easier for us to encourage people to fill out surveys that our GM R*Works manager demanded. Five people to work four stations made breaking for lunch difficult as well; a floater to help out during lunchtime would have made things easier (I think we violated OHSA rules on breaks, too. Oops.) Theoretically we were going to rotate between stations, but having only five workers with only one Spanish speaker among them meant that did not work out too well.
Management was also an issue-- we had incomplete or conflicting information between JD and GM R*Works regarding a few things due to the haste which this event was put together. (please stop screaming at the hired help. We didn't know, and you didn't inform our JD manager beforehand. Thanks. *winces*) All together things seem to have gone fairly well, even with the one incident we had with someone creating a scene (he didn't read the sign, "21+ to drive") about being under-21 and hence unable to drive at the event.
The next afternoon I spent some time at the Volvo booth, which was at the auto show itself. Things were much more hectic there, although it was not packed like a recent Toyota event was. The smaller course made for longer lines at the event, and they had a lot less area to work with, making things feel busier even during slow times. Having four different languages to deal made things more interesting; particularly with a smaller area, visitors and workers were kept in much closer proximity at all times. Sadly, my impressions are limited, as I did not spend much time there...