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Want To Chat Up An Auto Show Model? Talk Cars

A model climbs out of an Audi during the New York International Auto Show.
Don Emmert
AFP/Getty Images
A model climbs out of an Audi during the New York International Auto Show.

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 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Sonari Glinton is a NPR Business Desk Correspondent based at our NPR West bureau. He covers the auto industry, consumer goods, and consumer behavior, as well as marketing and advertising for NPR and Planet Money.