Bankruptcy? What bankruptcy?
The Detroit on display Friday night at the North American International Auto Show Charity Preview was the one so often missed by outsiders — confident, thrilled to be the Motor City, and convinced that things haven’t looked this bright in years.
“This year’s show has created more energy downtown than I’ve felt for four or five years,” said American Coney Island’s Grace Keros, who attended with “Detroit 187” actress Erin Cummings, in from New York for the event.
Of course, an out-of-the-ballpark year for car sales helps, too.
The mood just before the auto show doors opened at 6 p.m. was predictably buoyant. Gov. Rick Snyder, there with other dignitaries, including Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, waxed nostalgic about the first car he got as a teen back in Battle Creek.
“My dad bought me a used Plymouth wagon,” Snyder said. “It belonged to the town fire chief. You could still see the lettering on the side.
“It had a great engine,” he added, “but it only got 12 miles to the gallon.”
There was much merriment among the great and the grand at the opening ceremonies. Ford Chairman Alan Mulally, natty in customary red bow tie, drew laughs when he gave emcee Paul W. Smith an energetic hug and kiss.
This led Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel to demand a kiss as well. For his part, Smith said when he hugged newly minted General Motors CEO Mary Barra, he assured her he gave male auto bosses the same treatment. “I even kissed some of them,” Smith added.
Meanwhile, some visitors, like Melanie and Ed Duquesnel, were bowled over by the impressive new renovations to Cobo Center, including the addition of an Atrium as well as the Grand Riverview Ballroom in Cobo’s circular arena.
“It’s beautiful what they’ve done to this building,” said Ed, while Melanie, president of the Eastern Michigan Better Business Bureau, said admitted she couldn’t wait to see the new Ford F-150.
And some, like Darlene and Khalil Khanafer of Walled Lake, were just thrilled to be there.
“We’ve lived in Michigan 10 years and we’ve never checked it out and experienced it,” said Darlene.
Said Vivian Pickard, GM Foundation president, “I’m having a fabulous time watching the individuals and their amazement at the General Motors cars, even the concept car!”
Not surprisingly, the people-watching was splendid on this evening when everyone, dressed to the nines, looks famous.
Fashions this year were a study in contrast. Many women favored sequin dresses, often in muted colors, while others went with scarlet and other bright hues.
One fashion standout was Barra, who wore a long black gown with a black satin tuxedo stripe down the side, topped by a tuxedo jacket — a nice compromise between femininity and power.
Detroit Police Chief James Craig also stood out in a chartreuse bow tie. He said returning to the auto show, which he attended as a kid, was one of the thrills of coming home to Detroit.
“I just love American-made muscle,” he said with a laugh. “The American car companies are back!”
The Charity Preview sold 13,791 tickets, raising $4.83 million for nine children’s charities, easily outstripping last year’s total sales of 13,069.
The all-time high in ticket sales was 17,500 in 2005, but NAIAS spokesman Joe Rohatynski doesn’t regret the smaller numbers. “Sometimes there’s been a question of too many people,” he said. (What fun is a preview so mobbed you can’t move?)
On the show floor, Detroiters Bill and Jackie Ross were particularly impressed with Honda’s sleek white futuristic concept car.
“It’s the way to go,” said Bill, who works for the Booker T. Washington Business Association. “It gives you an idea of the direction we’re going in.”
The Rev. Solomon Kinloch Jr. and wife Robin found a number of cars intriguing. “I like that new concept Mercedes and the wing doors on the BMW,” said Kinloch, pastor of Triumph Church in Detroit. “It’s such a plethora of automobiles, I just don’t know where to start.”
Livening up the preview this year were nine-time Grammy winner Sheryl Crow; Cobo’s first-ever afterglow party, Club 25; and thoughtful little slippers for women whose feet had had it with high heels.
The nine southeast Michigan children’s charities benefiting from the preview include the Boys and Girls Clubs of Southeastern Michigan and Detroit’s Judson Center.
Since their start in 1976, Charity Previews have raised more than $91 million for children — more than half of that in the last 10 years alone.
Boxer Tommy Hearns, a Charity Preview regular, summed up the evening’s allure nicely.
“There’s always something different you expect to see at the auto show,” he said. “If it’s not the beautiful people, it’s the cars.”
Detroit News staffers Susan Whitall, Melody Baetens and Felecia Henderson contributed to this report.