Rod Meloni: The NAIAS and Detroit's image

DETROIT – Each year the North American International Auto Show media team loves to spout the impressive statistics about the Detroit Auto Show's international draw.

As they do the final tally, they are estimating 5,000 journalists in Detroit this year. The number of states is 40 with a newbie Idaho journalist roaming the floor. There are 59 different countries represented with several never before listed like Montenegro, Cambodia and Guinea.

They write about cars and trucks, but over the years we have heard the nasty things written about the auto show and the city. It was the steady drumbeat of a downtrodden city, the rundown condition of COBO, the dearth of restaurants and sometimes even snarky remarks about crime. Let's face it, when we don't put a good face on as hosts it gets noticed and Detroit earned a tawdry reputation over time.

But ever so slowly the car companies have recovered. This year is a 17 million unit sales year. With that comes lots of money to spend on the auto show. They did in a big way. I have heard more than a few of the analysts and the longtime show goers say this is the best NAIAS ever without hesitation. The displays are wide open and chocked full of new and exciting product. There is a great sense of improvement with the building itself when you consider the regional authority has taken over COBO operations; having renovated it into a building you can barely recognize from four years ago. The city has been through bankruptcy and emerged, the downtown is in fact growing and modernizing and there are an ever increasing number of restaurants popping up.

So just how is Detroit playing with this year's auto show journalists? Well, they love it. Of course, when you consider most of these people are car junkies, gear heads and otherwise smitten with the automobile, Detroit is an easy place to love. Motown is Motown -- good, bad or indifferent. For the car-crazed, this is "home away from home." It is also difficult for many of those attending the show to know what's going on outside COBO as they tend only to be here for two or three days and don't venture much farther than their hotel room.

Many of the journalists I spoke with Tuesday are not staying downtown, but in hotels in the outer suburbs. They work from the early morning until after sunset and so they aren't getting a good feel of the overall developments that have transpired over the last several years. That said, we didn't hear a lot of the negative stuff we witnessed during the Kwame Kilpatrick years or even the last few. Some have never been here before and are adjusting to covering their first major auto show like this which can be a bit overwhelming and requires a lot of work.

But let's hear from one journalist, whom I met, whose job is one I had never heard of or thought could pay you enough to live on. Vernon Chang, of Toronto, is a "digital influencer." He is a millennial, wears flashy glasses, jeans with a big cuff, a pork pie hat and purple sunglasses. He said of Metro Detroit [as he was at an airport area hotel]: "So far, especially around the airport and around the city, it seems like there's a lot of like good, a lot of people walking around. I feel safe walking around and there's a lot to offer in Detroit."

Another German television producer says he hasn't noticed much change in Detroit, saying "it stays the same but I love it."

There were the usual complaints about the weather and its impact on people's desire to venture far. We spent a couple of hours soliciting opinions and had difficulty finding foreign journalists who could or would actually speak English. Still, the overriding sense we picked up in our travels was that the show is a smashing success and coming to Detroit was not the terrible assignment it might have been at one time. One journalist said she went to look at Detroit and found herself in the Grosse Pointes and was shocked and disquieted by the notion you could drive from the toniest suburban living into the jaws of such oppressive poverty in a mere two blocks. Even still she said her experience here has been a good one.

Considering the bruising Detroit experienced in years past, the best change in this year's show is that we're not seeing those negative headlines in newspapers, magazines or social media we are used to complaining about.

Now all Detroit has to do is keep improving and change the silence about us into positive reviews.

Maybe next year.


About the Author:

Rod Meloni is an Emmy Award-winning Business Editor on Local 4 News and a Certified Financial Planner™ Professional.