Cars 2015 - matthew piers robertson • photography writing creative toronto

For 2015 I went to the North American International Auto Show – naias – in Detroit. This marks the first Car Show that I've actually used a car to attend, since I can walk to the convention centre in Toronto where my local show is held. As always I attended with my brothers, who 'get' cars in a way that I don't. I might still go to car shows on my own, just for the spectacle, but it wouldn't be the same.

Cars are all about movement. The best-designed ones personify that potential in a way that only a machine can – if you know what I mean.

Some of the cars at the show are moving, being placed on pedestal turntables to ensure that the crowd all gets the best view. Others are static, depending on the people pedestrianing around them to imbue them with movement.


Experience The All.

Car shows do fascinate me. I'm not their target market – I could have learned to drive two dozen years ago, and still haven't – and I just can't quite immerse myself in the marketing or the culture. The idea of vitrtual-reality headsets providing an actual experience is something that I hope I would always find ridiculous, but it's certainly easier to spot absurdity as an outsider.

Find New Roads.

It's hard to find car marketing that doesn't present you, the lucky future purchaser, moving unimpeded along an attractive road. I'm sure that's what this car company was thinking with their slogan. It's a call-out to the Car Freedom Wanderlust trope even as it tacitly acknowledges that our day-to-day experience is vastly different from that.

But there's also this thing called "Induced Demand". It's the idea that the latent demand for additional pavement is so strong that extra traffic lanes – or, indeed, new roads – makes it impossible to pave your way out of traffic congestion. The lure of the open road makes for an appealing slogan, but it translates into very bad urban planning.

Of course a strong latent demand also exists for public transit, and perhaps it's a little hypocritical that it becomes a reason to build instead of condemning the effort as futile. But then again, building more transit on my street inconveniences some drivers a little bit, while the municipal effort to replace that same street with an urban expressway nearly had my neighbourhood bulldozed.

The car industry, like the memory card industry, has challenges around superlatives. This leads to things like trucks named after mountain ranges being named after a mountain from a different part of the continent as well.

Everything for 2015 is all-new despite having overwhelming parts commonality with the previous model of the same name. Everything also offers better performance, and these days usually has the word "eco-" tagged in somewhere as well. It's the Lite Beer slogan of 'tastes great, less filling'  repurposed to make people feel better about the fuel multi-ton single-passenger vehicles burn – as if that's a bigger problem than the incredibly inefficient use of the vast civic resources dedicated to them, or the number of people they kill each year.


Detroit's North American International Auto Show is presented on a vastly grander scale than Toronto's Canadian International Auto Show. Toronto seems to depend on the local car dealers to set up with what they have on hand, so the massive stages and expansive LED display walls in Detroit were amazing to see. A lot of money, care, and effort went into the presentation.

None of that stopped the bold slogan "GO PLACES" from being placed above the restroom entrance, though.

Leave your mark.

And if you can read "POWER… Power… power" without doing a monster-truck voice then you're stronger than I am.


As is true almost everywhere, smart phones dominate photography. And why shouldn't they? They have good image quality, simple operation, and are perfectly in tune with how most people see and show their photos. Rather than lamenting the demise of the single-purpose camera – the selling of which keeps my own camera collection fed and housed – I've decided to be glad that taking photos remains so important to how people enjoy their lives.

Not that I was using my phone to take photos, mind you. All of these photos were taken with my nondescript little Ricoh GR.

The sales staff at car shows – whether they work for a dealership or are hired for the event – have always impressed me. They can speak Automotive with fluency that matches or exceeds my ability to talk about cameras or photography, and do it for days on end under incredibly demanding conditions. They need to be equally good at talking to someone with my level of automotive knowledge – "the green one is pretty" – to a exchanges with enthusiasts who have genuine passions for the products on display. Seriously: the skill it takes to work and interact in sales is deeply under-appreciated.

One of my favourite things about going to car shows is being able to listen to my brothers talking about the vehicles. It's like having a pair of incredibly knowledgable guides who can explain the significance of everything I see, but need to tell me "the red one" or "the silver one" so that I can follow along. Or try to, at least. At the end of the day I come away impressed, and still convinced that the green one is pretty.


Of course I photograph the ubiquitous "Please Stay Off" signs whenever I can, and will usually do an entire auto show series out of them. Perhaps that will still happen, but for now this one will stand in for them all. It seems perfect for me.

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