Tika has almost lost count of the number of times she’s had her picture taken this week.
“Some people say, ‘I just want a picture of you; forget about the car,’” the tall, willowy 22-year-old model quipped as she swished her long dark hair and struck a stunning pose next to a big red Ferrari.
“We get lots of nice compliments and men ask us out, but I just thank them and say, ‘I’m taken, and I’m in love,’” she said, flashing a bulky diamond ring on her engagement finger.
There is plenty to gawk at this week at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. But at the Ferrari display, elegant feminine curves were turning just as many heads as the gorgeous bodywork on the Ferrari FXX sports car, which made its North American debut this week together with the Ferrari 599 GTB — the storied Italian sports car manufacturer’s most powerful V12-engined production car of all time.
Young, shapely women, are a common sight at auto shows; they’re primarily employed to tempt would-be car buyers closer to the cars on display. But they’re not all just pretty faces.
Often professional models, or actresses in their early twenties, many of them are employed as “product specialists,” and they’re expected to know as much about the cars they’re standing next to as your average automotive geek.
“Many of our product specialists have a college degree in communications, theater or business studies; we have some with backgrounds in engineering and design, and occasionally a person with a PhD,” said Margery Krevsky, founder of Productions Plus, a 25-year-old modeling agency in Birmingham, Mich., that provides product specialists for auto shows for the world’s biggest automakers, including Toyota, Nissan and Mercedes.
“They have to be attractive, of course, but underneath that attractiveness is a mind that has been trained,” she said.
If you think these models can’t tell one Ferrari from another, you'd be surprised. They’re expected to know the history and background of the automotive company they are working for, and they must also know about its vehicles and corresponding vital statistics. Both men and women are employed in the field and they typically spend three to five days in training, sometimes driving the cars they represent and a competitor’s vehicle too so they can discuss the differences with a potential customer at an auto show, said Krevsky.
“These people need to be dedicated because they’re on their feet for six, sometimes eight hours a day,” she said, adding that competition for positions is fierce. “For every person you see on the show floor, I’ve interviewed or re-auditioned 50 people, and in my company I have a department where I’m constantly auditioning. Once someone gets a spot, if they’re really good and helpful they can stay with a car firm for several years.”
Strong communication skills are key, notes Krevsky. Product specialists are expected to stand on large, rotating turntables for several hours a day, wearing outfits selected to match the image a company wants to convey and promoting the qualities of the vehicle the represent. They’ll sometimes be called on to deliver a memorized script about a specific vehicle, and they earn between $200 and $500 a day, depending on their experience.
Automakers take the job seriously too.
Toyota, for example, currently has 60 product specialists traveling to automotive events inside the United States. “What you see at Detroit is just one element of what happens all over the country during auto show season,” Krevsky said.
Wearing a revealing red dress and a pair of uncomfortable-looking high-heeled shoes, full-time fashion model Krystal was employed by Ferrari to show off its eye-catching 612 Scaglietti sports car at Detroit this week.
Over the past three years, the 25-year-old New York resident has worked on 45 different automotive shows in cities like Los Angeles, Chicago and Atlanta. But as a native of Michigan, Detroit is one of her favorite shows.
“This is my home town, so I have lots of friends who come by and see me — family members, or former colleagues from auto shows. We see each other during our breaks,” she said.
People are courteous for the most part, but occasionally she attracts some unwanted attention.
“Every day you get someone saying how pretty you are and asking if you’re single, but my response is always the same: No, I’m not single and no I can’t go out with you,” she said. “I get that sort of attention on Broadway in New York, so I’m used to it and I can deal with it.”
Women like Krystal can make a career out of modeling for cars, flying thousands of miles each year from state fairs to auto shows around the country following the auto show calendar, which typically begins in September and ends in May, spanning the period between The State Fair of Texas and the New York International Auto Show.
Jennifer, 24, who graduated from college two years ago with a degree in marketing and human resources and now works in a hair salon, says Detroit is her first auto show, but she’s considering working in more shows in the future.
“There are people who go from city to city, staying in hotels and doing different car shows, but I wanted to try it out and experience it first,” she said. “Its definitely hard work, and we have to put in long hours, but it’s fun and I definitely enjoy it. You get to see lots of famous people,” she said.
For Yuliya, 24, a professional model who is originally from the Ukraine and now lives in the Ann Arbor area, the best thing about working an auto show circuit is the opportunity to meet people from different countries and backgrounds.
“We work long hours, and it’s hard on your feet, but they are really treating us so wonderfully, I can’t complain,” she said. “And standing next to these cars is so wonderful. I’ve dreamed of Ferraris since I was a little girl, and now I get to stand next to one.”