Finweek English Edition - - Openers -

tank­ing both here and world­wide, it took some do­ing for vis­it­ing and lo­cal auto in­dus­try ex­ecs to put on a brave face at the Jo­han­nes­burg In­ter­na­tional Mo­tor Show. They mostly man­aged, al­though it wasn’t al­ways their own faces or mod­els that did the trick. (See a bet­ter ex­am­ple of a brave face and fresh model be­low.)

Two years ago, in terms of pageantry, Volk­swa­gen’s Seat mar­que won hands down. Dancers in fire-re­tar­dant racing suits stripped down to party gear to the tune of Smack My Bitch Up. How prophetic was that choice of mu­sic. I’m cer­tain when VW pulled the plug on Seat South Africa a few months ago, words to that ef­fect re­ver­ber­ated around its Uitenhage HQ.

This year the award for most sur­real per­for­mance must go to CAM, im­porters of mostly dirt-cheap bakkies from China. Three girls ap­peared out of nowhere, bumped and ground around a sports car and then promptly ex­ited right. That was it. What the ve­hi­cle was or whether it will ever go on sale here will re­main a mys­tery. Some of the Chi­nese im­porters are known for not hav­ing great ser­vice and sup­port, but when the wheels come off your CAM are you sup­posed to swap it for the three danc­ing ponies? (Hell, yeah!)

Op­po­site CAM, GWM had no mod­els in skimpy clothes but enough drinks to give you beer gog­gles. In con­trast to CAM’s WTF, the Hong-Kong listed and big­gest pri­vate man­u­fac­turer in China flew in a se­nior exec to ad­dress the press, showed off a R600 000 limo and an up and run­ning elec­tric ve­hi­cle.

Ger­mans love power. And kink­i­ness, I thought as I obeyed Mercedes-Benz’s in­struc­tion to put on my black eye mask. It was for the un­veil­ing of a 1 000Nm mon­ster called the SL 65 AMG Black Edi­tion. Or­ders for 14 of them have al­ready been taken in SA, out of the to­tal of 350 that will be built. For the lucky few who or­dered be­fore the rand’s wob­ble, it cost R3,9m. Now you have to pay R4,2m. No won­der Merc has taken over the spon­sor­ship of the Black Man­age­ment Fo­rum.

Audi used to spon­sor the BMF but is now putting its money on celebrity en­dorse­ments. I don’t nec­es­sar­ily know the star­lets’ names, but I recog­nised some of their fea­tures. Faces, I mean faces. Swim­suit mod­els, not in swim­suits, but all-white dresses, un­veiled an avalanche of new, all­black cars to the tune of (I’m in Love with a) Strict Ma­chine. I was afraid if the gy­rat­ing went on for too long some­one would shout: “Show us your TTS!” ( That’s the new sports ver­sion of the Audi TT, in case you were won­der­ing.)

Next door, BMW (like Merc) let the cars speak for them­selves, al­though it was over the siren of a car alarm at a nearby stand. His­tory re­peated it­self when two years ago a mal­func­tion­ing mike also sab­o­taged the Beemer pre­sen­ta­tion. The BM speak­ers sim­ply took it in their stride, just like the av­er­age M3 driver would when you cut in front of him on the M1.

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