Want To Chat Up An Auto Show Model? Talk Cars

Apr 24, 2011
Originally published on April 24, 2011 12:26 pm

As people wander through the New York International Auto Show looking at the latest the global automotive industry has to offer, they'll be led by a bevy of beauties.

Attractive young women leaning against new cars are an important part of any auto show, but don't presume. They do more than stand there and look pretty.

If you try to interview one of them, however, this is what happens:

Reporter: "Can I ask your name?"

Woman: "No."

Reporter: "Why is that?"

Woman: "It's just a corporate policy."

Try as I might to interview one of the models at the Auto Show, I was continually rebuffed. Corporate policy for almost all the car companies seems to mandate the women who stand by the cars can talk — but not to the press.

I really just had one simple question: Who are these women?

"Those are the product specialist women," says Rebecca Lindland, an analyst with IHS Automotive, a consulting firm. She explained it to me.

"They are charged with knowing the vehicle from front to back," she says, "Upside-down, sideways. Everything a consumer may ask about a product."

At least the women in the U.S. have to know about cars, Lindland says, not like in Europe.

"At the Italian Ferrari Maserati, I mean, the women are so stunningly, jaw-dropping beautiful," Lindland says. "And they don't say a word."

As smart as Lindland is about the car industry, my hard-hitting investigation wouldn't be complete until I talked to someone who knew what it meant to stand next to a car for hours.

Finally, I hit the jackpot.

A former product specialist, Melissa Witek works for Porsche Cars North America. She was an actress and model before she went into marketing for Porsche. She says there's a stereotype that product specialists are just there to look good.

"It's pretty funny when a guy comes up and says, 'Well, you don't know much about this car,' and then I rattle off the horse power, the torque, what the camshafts and the pistons do and when they fire," she says. "I like to put people in their place."

As might be expected, she got asked a lot of goofy questions. Her favorite is "Do you come with the car?"

Her answer: "I'm a priceless option."

Meaning, no matter how rich you are — jerk — you can't afford me?

"Basically," Witek laughs.

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LIANE HANSEN, Host:

As NPR's Sonari Glinton learned, they do a lot more than just stand there and look pretty.

SONARI GLINTON: Unidentified Woman: No.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GLINTON: Unidentified Woman: It's just a corporate policy.

GLINTON: I really just had one simple question: Who are these women?

REBECCA LINDLAND: Those are the product specialist women.

GLINTON: That is Rebecca Lindland. She's an analyst with IHS automotive, a consulting firm. She explained it all for me.

LINDLAND: They are charged with knowing the vehicle from, you know, front to back, upside down, side ways, everything that a consumer may ask about a product.

GLINTON: Lindland says at least the women in the U.S. have to know about cars.

LINDLAND: I mean in Europe at the Italian, you know, Ferrari Maserati, I mean the women are so stunningly, jaw-droppingly beautiful. And they don't say a word.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GLINTON: As smart as Rebecca Lindland is about the car industry, my hard- hitting investigation wouldn't be complete until I talked someone who knew what it meant to stand next to a car for hours. But finally I hit the jackpot.

MELISSA WITEK: Hi. I am Melissa Witek. I work for Porsche Cars North America and I'm a former product specialist.

GLINTON: Witek was an actress and a model before she went into marketing for Porsche. She says there's a stereotype that product specialists are just there to look good.

WITEK: But its' pretty funny when a guy comes up and says, Oh, you don't know much about this car. And then I rattle off the horsepower or the torque, what the camshaft and the pistons do and when they fire. And I like to put people in their place.

GLINTON: What, I mean you get asked a lot of goofy questions, don't you?

WITEK: Of course. My favorite tends to be: Do you come with the car? And as a team, we have 10 girls on our team, we don't have any guys on the team so we're like, what do we say to that question? It's so awkward. You know, you don't want to - you get a little embarrassed. So what I say is I'm a priceless option.

GLINTON: Meaning: No matter how rich you are, jerk, you can't afford me.

WITEK: Basically.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GLINTON: Sonari Glinton, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.