By David Thomas on January 15, 2009
In one of the untold stories of the 2009 Detroit auto show, General Motors inadvertently confused millions of TV viewers, car enthusiasts and even automotive journalists. It all started with a glowing series of segments on NBC’s Today Show last week.
During an interview with Matt Lauer — which you can watch here — GM executive Ed Welburn revealed the front end of an all new subcompact car that he said the company would reveal at the Detroit auto show on Sunday. Lauer repeated that it was a big deal that he couldn’t pull off the rest of the tarp or he’d get in trouble. Websites all over, including this one, concluded that it was the production version of the Beat subcompact that had debuted as a concept two years earlier.
GM didn't deny the reports once they hit hugely popular enthusiast sites like Jalopnik.com. Come Sunday, though, GM rolled out … the exact same 2007 Beat concept car it had showed two years ago — not a production version — in a rolling parade onto its stage for the company's press conference. On GM's media website, it released one lone image of the production vehicle, now called Spark, along with a formal announcement that the Spark would go on sale in the U.S. in 2011.
It took repeated calls with GM’s communications department to even have the company acknowledge that what was under the tarp on TV and what was on stage were different vehicles — and to those who do this for a living, it was clear they were different.
Finally, word came from GM Global Communications Department’s Klaus-Peter Martin. The car underneath the tarp on TV was a foam model of the production Spark. Because there wasn’t a working prototype to roll in the parade, the company used the Beat concept instead because it was similar to the production car that's in the works.
Martin says any misunderstanding was unintentional, and that the company had always intended to reveal the production Spark in Geneva. The only rolling prototype of the Spark just arrived stateside to be prepared for the March show in Geneva. Hopefully GM can get it ready in time so we won’t get another tease.
Managing Editor David Thomas has a thing for wagons and owns a 2010 Subaru Outback and a 2005 Volkswagen Passat wagon. Email David