By Sharon Gittleman
DETROIT – LGBT people don’t only develop design concepts, run auto corporations and build the cars the world drives. Gays and lesbians help bring the industry’s innovations in engineering and style to the public every January at the North American International Auto Show at Cobo Hall.
Lambda Car Club member and engineer Greg Steinmayer develops displays, turntables, platforms and signs for the auto show that make the latest trucks, SUVs and sports cars catch your eye.
“It’s kind of an invisible industry,” said Steinmayer, who asked his company’s name not be revealed. “Until I got this job, I didn’t know this industry existed.”
Clients come to Steinmayer’s firm asking for presentations that highlight their cars’ best qualities, like a truck’s rugged handling or a sedan’s luxurious interior.
“Our designers create an environment that enhances these qualities,” he said. “It might be based on a certain color or an emotion or an advertising campaign.”
Steinmayer said he builds “portable architecture.”
“We are not creating engineering pieces, but architectural pieces,” he said, “they create a presence and an environment.”
One client asked for an “urban look” for its new truck’s auto show display.
“I engineered a portable temple that the truck sat in the center of – complete with columns and turntable,” he said. “It was the centerpiece of that client’s booth at the auto show.”
Designs are drawn in June, engineering begins on Labor Day, construction starts in October and the first auto show set-ups are placed in Cobo Hall the day after Thanksgiving, Steinmayer said. In his industry, 72 hour weeks are the norm the last four months before the Detroit auto show.
Logistics is Steinmayer’s biggest challenge.
“It’s getting everything you need at the right place at the right time,” he said. “You’re dealing with dozens of cars, thousands of square feet of carpeting, miles of electric cables and displays that break down into parts and come in thousands of crates from all over the country.”
While the public is invited to Cobo Hall each year to see the auto show, industry pros and the press get their own private glimpses at the car stars for the year to come.
“The press show is an event to introduce the new cars,” he said. “Its whole purpose is different. It’s to create a rabid excitement among the press. It’s to create as much drama as possible.”
Some of the new car displays during press week rival Las Vegas spectaculars. Last year, one auto giant’s CEO stood inside a metal gazebo, speaking to the media about his company’s future designs. He walked away after his brief introduction, and the sides of the gazebo lowered to the ground while billowing clouds of smoke rose up in the air. Throbbing music began to play, nearly masking the roar of the 10 cylinder engine, when a Terminator lookalike blasted up the metal ramp through the mist on the company’s concept motorcycle.
Other car companies fly in French chefs to prepare treats for the media, in the apparent hope that Crepes Suzette will sweeten auto journalists’ copy.
The Detroit auto show’s press week is the most important automotive event for journalists, said Steinmayer. Media from China, France, Italy and beyond come to Cobo Hall each year for a closer look at the new models introduced by the Big Three and independent car manufacturers.
“For the public, it’s an entirely different animal,” he said. “For the public portion of the show, it’s geared toward dealing with crowds and focusing attention on an individual group of cars. The press show is a performance, the public show is like a gallery.”
The auto show season begins in October and ends in April, drawing car lovers, manufacturers and display design workers to hundreds of locales across the country. Steinmayer said Detroit, Chicago and New York are “A-kit” shows.
“They get the full Monty,” he said. “Large shows like Los Angeles, Miami and Philadelphia are B-kit shows. They get some of the features of the A-kit shows, but they don’t get everything. It goes down to D-kit shows in Peoria and Kansas City. They may get a turntable and an ID tower.”
Working on the shows is a thrill and a challenge for Steinmayer, an auto-enthusiast and proud owner of a 1969 pastel blue Lincoln Continental.
“We get to see everything new that’s coming out, long before the public does,” he said. “It’s exciting because it’s always something new and different. The clients and the designers try to top themselves every year. Then we (engineers) have to pick up the pieces.”
You can visit the North American International Auto Show from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. January 10 – 18 at Cobo Hall in Detroit. On January 19, the final day for the show, the doors close at 7 p.m. No one is admitted one hour before closing on all evenings. Ticket prices are $12 for adults, $6 for seniors 65 and older, and children 12 and under can see the show for free when accompanied by a parent or guardian. Tickets can be purchased at the door, at Ticketmaster locations or online at http://www2.naias.com.