8:00am

Sun April 24, 2011
Business

Want To Chat Up An Auto Show Model? Talk Cars

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. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

LIANE HANSEN, host:

The New York International Auto Show is one of the last showcases of new cars and ideas for the season. Thousands of enthusiasts will wander through the show over the next week, as a bevy of beauties show off the latest from the global automotive industry.

The beautiful young women who lean against the new cars are an important part of any auto show.

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

SONARI GLINTON: When you go to an auto show, you can't avoid something very obvious. There are a lot of attractive women who stand by cars. And if you try to interview one of them, well, this is what happens.

Can I ask your name?

Unidentified Woman: No.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GLINTON: Why is that?

Unidentified Woman: It's just a corporate policy.

GLINTON: 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 be: 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?

Ms. REBECCA LINDLAND (Senior Auto Analyst, IHS Global Insight): 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.

Ms. 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.

Ms. 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.

Ms. MELISSA WITEK (Customer Consultation Specialist, Porsche Cars North America): 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.

Ms. WITEK: But its' pretty funny when a guy comes up and says, Oh, you dont 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?

Ms. 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 dont have any guys on the team so we're like, what do we say to that question? It's so awkward. You know, you dont want to - you get a little embarrassed. So what I say is Im a priceless option.

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

Ms. WITEK: Basically.

(Soundbite of laughter)

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