HOLLYWOOD, CALIF. – In a town where image is everything, automakers showed off their best for the Oscar awards ceremony, hoping a little Tinseltown glitter would rub off. Most auto companies are focused on the public exposure that comes with putting their newest vehicles in front of some of the most influential opinion makers in American culture. But the three biggest automakers – GM, Ford and Toyota – hope to meet even more ambitious goals.
General Motors Corp. wants to restyle its image, especially in trend-conscious California, where the company's market share last year was 16.9 percent, 8 percentage points lower than its national average. Ford Motor Co., with a newly opened Beverly Hills office focused on winning new and better on-screen vehicle opportunities, is counting on building a buzz about a premium brand with a Hollywood history by giving away a yet-to-go-into-production Jaguar. And Toyota Motor Co. hopes to further foster an image among celebrities that it is a high-tech maker of environmentally friendly vehicles.
While celebrities and their cars have always been part of American culture, automakers are drawn to the Oscars because the exposure and publicity today is unprecedented, said Wes Brown, a partner in the Los Angeles-based automotive research firm, Iceology. Technology and the intense media coverage of star culture "have created an atmosphere where (consumers) have never been more tuned in," he said.
GM is the only automaker that stages its own Oscar event. GM hosted its fourth star-studded, high-energy, bass-thumping, pre-Oscar fashion show with new and classic GM vehicles sharing the runway with celebrity models wearing the latest couture offerings. Although held during drenching rainstorms in Southern California, this year's event had a nearly standing-room-only crowd. The fashion show included actors Dennis Hopper, Tori Spelling, John Stamos, Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore, as well as director Quentin Tarentino. The crowd cheered as actor Jamie Foxx strutted the runway with a bright red Hummer H3 rolling behind him.
Not to be outdone, Ford upped the ante at Oscar parties this year with the season's "gift of all gifts." At nearly every Oscar-related event, stars were showered with gift bags that could be worth tens of thousands of dollars in vacation trips, clothes, jewelry and more. Saturday at the "Night Before" party attended by studio chieftains and A-list celebrities, Ford Chairman and CEO Bill Ford Jr. was expected to give one lucky party guest a next-generation Jaguar XK coupe. The car, unveiled as a concept at the Detroit auto show last month, isn't scheduled for production until April 2006 as a 2007 model.
Toyota, leveraging its green reputation, provided three kinds of gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles to ferry the movie industry's biggest stars to the Oscar ceremony. "We're very fortunate in that a lot of people in the entertainment industry see the Oscars as an opportunity to have their voices heard" about environmental concerns, said Mary Nickerson, national marketing manager for advanced technology vehicles at Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.
Jeffrey Best, whose company Best Events produces the GM fashion show as well as movie premieres and other Hollywood programs, said Los Angeles is a natural place to serve as the nexus of an emerging star/car/fashion culture. "A car in L.A. is a fashion accessory," he said. "It's an extension of your clothes, your makeup, your hair, and it moves at 50 miles an hour."