A year ago, General Motors Corp rolled out rapper 50 Cent to launch a new sport truck at the New York Auto Show. This year it sent executives in suits with a PowerPoint presentation.
Dancing girls out, PowerPoint in?
The top U.S. automaker, which has operated on $13.4 billion in government loans since the start of the year, is scrambling to meet a June 1 deadline to present a sweeping restructuring plan and avoid bankruptcy.
Susan Docherty, GM vice president for the Buick, Pontiac and GMC brands, said the company was keenly aware of the fact that it should not be wasting public money on auto show glitz.
"This is not the time for conspicuous consumption or doing things that are going to be seen as extravagant," Docherty said after unveiling a new model at a news conference that was markedly low-key compared with last year's extravaganza.
"You saw me doing a PowerPoint presentation and talking from the heart," Docherty said. "It was nothing fancy, there were no dancing girls, there were no parades and bands and things that you may have seen at auto shows in the past."
Chrysler, which has been operating under $4 billion of US government emergency loans, was also spending less to impress.
A government task force charged with restructuring the ailing US auto industry has given Chrysler until the end of April to complete an alliance with Italy's Fiat.
Vice chairman Jim Press made his entrance at a news conference in a tiny Fiat 500 rather than one of the U.S. carmaker's own high-end models.
Chrysler said it has spent a third less on the show this year. Its display features fewer bright LED lights and screens, and is using a lot of fabric rather than hard panels, which cost more to make and ship, an official said.
Toyota US president Jim Lentz said he had noticed far less glitz. "You can't be ostentatious right now, the consumers' mood is not about that at all," he said.
Toyota has cut the amount it spends on public relations and media by 25 to 30%, spokesman Mike Michels said.
Mass market brand Hyundai Motor Co said it was gaining sales from the backlash against excess. "There's a bit of reverse social stigma going on," said John Krafcik, the Korean automaker's US chief executive.
There was still plenty of lush carpeting, blaring music and high-tech gadgetry, but there was less free food and drink and auto reporters who are normally wined and dined like royalty were treated to less lavish partying than usual.
"As far as manufacturers go, we used to fly a lot more journalists in," said Maurice Durand, manager of product communications for Mitsubishi Motors North America.
"That's not the case any more, we can't throw down for 20 rooms for two or three nights in New York for media like we used to," he said. Mitsubishi held a cocktail party for reporters on a much more frugal scale than usual, he said.
"Instead of buying a whole property or a club for five or six hours, now you're buying a room in the back of a restaurant for an hour or an hour-and-a-half," he said.
Johan de Nysschen, head of Audi of America, said the luxury automaker, a unit of Germany's Volkswagen, had always tried to be classy and sophisticated rather than showy and ostentatious - an image he said was more appealing than ever in the current economic climate.
"We're not seen as a fat cat brand," he said.