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Published: Sunday, 1/14/2001

Role of auto show `models' shifts with time


DETROIT - Michelle Stacey-Deem could not have answered questions about a Jeep's curb weight or other details when she started working on the auto-show circuit as a model 18 years ago.

The Farmington Hills, Mich., native also would not have gone through training to learn about the new Toledo-made Jeep Liberty - and drive it and its competitors - as she did last year.

“We didn't have to know anything about the product at all,” Mrs. Stacey-Deem, an employee of Affiliated Models of Troy, Mich., recalled last week. “We answer as many questions as the professionals now.”

Much has changed over the years for auto-show models, now known as narrators. Gone are the days of giving mindless sing-song recitations, perching on cars, and wearing glamorous yet out-of-place clothes - although possessing good looks still is a necessity.

For the 2002 Jeep Liberty's debut at the North American International Auto Show in downtown Detroit, Mrs. Stacey-Deem memorized an 11-page informational script that calls for her to banter with rock climber Kamil Koleczko before showgoers. The duo and another narrator put on several daily shows for the Liberty, which will be on display at the Cobo Center through next Sunday in front of a 25-foot mountain scene complete with a waterfall.

DaimlerChrysler's U.S. unit spends four days training 50 narrators and 80 product specialists hired through two Detroit-area talent agencies to ready them for auto shows. The narrators and product specialists are taught about the Chrysler unit's lineup, including the all-new Liberty, at the automaker's headquarters in Auburn Hills, Mich.

Like Mrs. Stacey-Deem, a suburban Phoenix resident who does commercials and films, many of the Chrysler unit's auto-show narrators have college degrees and most are women. They have to be good communicators and knowing a second language is a plus, said Tom Zakarian, the Chrysler unit's senior manager of consumer events.

Chrysler unit narrators range in age from 21 to 44 and spend up to 100 days a year at auto shows. Product specialists, who know about all the vehicles and roam the display to answer questions, spend up to 120 days a year at shows, Mr. Zakarian said.

Showgoers typically go to narrators first to get their questions answered these days, he said.

“As women's roles have changed, narrators' roles have changed with them,” Mr. Zakarian said. “That's great that they [the narrators] look good up there, but they [the showgoers] expect more from them.”

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