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Insiders size up the competition at Detroit auto show

Michael Wayland
The Detroit News

Walt Shurtleff thoroughly inspected a sedan at the Audi display at the 2015 North American International Auto Show on Wednesday.

He wasn't interested in buying an Audi, nor was he selling the brand. He was sizing up the competition.

Shurtleff, director of trim quality and development for Hyundai Dymos, part of the South Korean automaker, folded seats, felt textures and analyzed every stitch and ridge of the Audi's interior.

"We do a little benchmarking," he explained to The Detroit News. "We take what we learn here, Frankfurt and the other car shows … and we drive it back into the product."

Shurtleff was among about 35,000 people expected to tramp the show floor during Industry Preview days on Wednesday and Thursday. These aren't your everyday rubberneckers. They're industry insiders — engineers, execs and others — who have two days to get an advance look at what will be in their competitors' showrooms in a year or two.

The annual two-day event, sandwiched between the press preview days Monday and Tuesday and the black-tie Charity Preview on Friday, affords them almost unlimited access. They hop into trunks, measure gas caps, crawl under vehicles and take pictures from all vantage points.

On Wednesday, some of the most popular vehicles for the industry folks were the Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat, Tesla Model S electric car, German luxury vehicles and the star of the show, the Ford GT supercar — but they weren't allowed to touch that one.

"It's nice that it has some of the design cues from the previous versions," Lou Yarde, who works for an exhaust systems company in Kalamazoo, said of the GT.

Yarde, who has attended the Industry Preview for more than a decade, says it's the best way to inspect the creme de la creme.

Auto show chairman Scott LaRiche said the Industry Preview started 25 years ago, a year after the local Detroit auto show went international.

"One of the things that we do as a committee is travel around the world trying to find the best of the best that we can bring back to Detroit to make our show better," he said. "Whether it's for the media; whether it's for the public; or in this case, for industry experts that are flooding the floor as we speak."

This year's two-day attendance at the Industry Preview is expected to be the highest since 2008, when more than 37,300 tickets were sold. Since 2005, ticket sales have averaged about 28,000.

Although the event is called Industry Preview, it's little known that the general public can purchase tickets, too. The show's general public days begin Saturday.

Auto journalists get in free for press days, but Industry Preview tickets are $95. If that's a little too rich for your blood, wait until Saturday, when general admission is $13 for adults.

Kevin D. Berg, who lives outside Columbus, Ohio, was willing to pay extra for an early look and a bit more elbow room and access, compared to the public days. He snapped photos underneath vehicles, such as the Chevrolet Corvette Stingray, for his own use. Berg, an auto enthusiast, works as a contractor for Verizon. But in his spare time, he also works on a website, where he shares different experiences such as the auto show.

"I've always had a love for cars," he said. "I used to blog about NASCAR and drag racing."

mwayland@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2504

Showtimes

Industry days: Through today

Charity preview: Friday, $400 per person

Public show: Jan. 17-25; $13 adults, $7 children (7-12 years old) and seniors (65 and older)