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Detroit Auto Show: Ford Brings Its Own Cheering Section

Captive audiences get my vote for "Trends We Can Do Without" from this week's Detroit auto show press preview.

Notably, Ford (F) for at least the second year in a row salted the audience at its Jan. 11 press conference with a whole section of Ford employees at Detroit's Cobo Arena. The employees cheered and whistled loudly every time Ford President and CEO Alan Mulally opened his mouth.

Sure, Ford can rationalize the practice by calling it an employee morale-building exercise. But in TV coverage, it makes it appear as if reporters are cheering their heads off. That's misleading, and I think purposely misleading.

Mulally seems like an unpretentious enough guy, but with just a little encouragement in a public venue, Mulally lights up like a Christmas tree. He's got to be aware that there's a phony element to the tumultuous applause, but it doesn't seem to bother him any.

Ford did the same thing a year ago. Last year, the cheering section missed a cue to cheer when Mulally said Ford had gained market share. He actually paused and prompted, "Should we stop and applaud that?"

No need this year. The employee cheering section outdid itself, especially one guy with a piercing whistle. I'm not saying they did this, but if some Ford factory had a whistle-off to see who could take a day off to come to the press conference, this guy would have won.

General Motors did something similar at last year's Detroit auto show, and I wrote in this space that I hoped it wouldn't become a trend.

This year, GM laid off the employees - pardon the expression - GM refrained from recruiting large numbers of employees as ringers for its press conferences.

Kia, which is cultivating a bit of a cheeky image, used its Detroit auto show press conference on Jan. 11 to make fun of press conferences, using TV pitchman Anthony "Sully" Sullivan as a spokesman, plus cue-card ladies who waved signs saying "Applause," and "Oooooh!" and "Aaaaah!"

Some of the live audience laughed and gamely "Ooooh'ed" and "Aaaah'ed" along with canned "studio audience" responses. It was all in fun, and no harm was done.

Photos: Ford; Greg Jarem