Auto show is like ‘Groundhog Day’ — but in a good way

Neal Rubin
The Detroit News

Nope, said Sam Tanari. Nothing special so far.

They opened the doors to the public for the first two days of the North American International Auto Show. Exactly 215,836 people rumbled through.

The cars were shiny, the customers were happy (except for exactly 261 grumps), and a whole bunch more of them will keep trotting in until the show closes Sunday.

“Once it starts,” Tanari said Monday, “it’s sort of like ‘Groundhog Day.’ ”

Which is one of the beauties of it, along with all of the free dreams. For the price of admission, you get to imagine what you’d drive home and how big a garage you’d need if you won the lottery.

Meantime, glitches get fixed, stains get scoured from carpets, nobody notices, and the show rolls on.

Tanari, 42, is vice president of Convention & Show Services, which oversees the deceptively complicated production of the auto show.

His dad, Fred, founded the company and remains the big kahuna at 75. Sam joined him at 23, when he was a fifth-year junior at Eastern Michigan University and Fred found himself short a salesman.

“You’re done playing around,” Fred said. Now Sam does his playing at the auto show, and if you’re wondering if he’s as big a kid as you would be, yes:

“I still sit in all the cars.”

Cobo, star of the show

If Convention & Show Services is an unsung star of the auto show, so is Cobo Center itself.

Anyone behind the scenes six years ago had to wonder why city councilmembers screeched about protecting a Detroit jewel at the same time mold was growing beneath the tarps that hung from leaky ceilings.

Being as diplomatic as possible, current show chairman Scott LaRiche conceded, “It was known worldwide that it wasn’t a very good facility.”

All it took was a regional authority to commandeer the facility — and $299 million worth of recently finished improvements — to squelch any talk of moving the cars to Novi.

The show ends at 7 p.m. Sunday, and teardown begins at about 7:02. Next up is the 57th annual Detroit Boat Show, Feb. 14-22, and whether your preference is sail or power, it’s a breeze.

While the auto show takes about 21/2 months to build, load-in for the boat show takes only five days.

In McConaughey’s garage

I don’t know whether actor Matthew McConaughey owns a boat, but in answer to questions from multiple readers, he does indeed drive Lincolns.

McConaughey stars in a series of Lincoln commercials that seem to either intrigue people or send them diving for the remote control.

“I wouldn’t say he’s obligated” to drive the company’s cars, said Andrew Frick, the grand vizier of Lincoln sales and service for North America, but the company supplied him with several and he uses them.

Specifically, McConaughey has a red, all-wheel-drive MKZ sedan with a 3.7-liter V6 engine, and a smoked quartz, all-wheel-drive MKC crossover with a 2.3-liter four-cylinder EcoBoost engine.

There are limits, however, to his roles’ intersection with reality.

While he once starred in a movie called “The Lincoln Lawyer,” he is not in fact an attorney, and people actually like him.

Got an air freshener?

You know how someone will take a whiff of obviously expired milk, push it toward you and ask you to smell it?

This is similar, though the container is a bit larger.

In the concourse at Cobo Center, a Chinese company called GAC Group is showing a sedan, a small SUV and a concept vehicle with gull-wing doors.

Every Chinese company that’s come to the auto show has predicted it would be selling cars in North America within two years, and one day one of them actually will.

With that track record, I’m not holding my breath for the vehicles GAC markets in China under the brand names Trumpchi and Gonow. But I did have to hold my breath when I sat in the cars.

To me, they had the exact eye-watering scent of rubber cement.

So if you happen to make it to the auto show ...

Smell that, will you?