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Backstage at the Cascadia Evolution press reveal
If you’ve never been to Washington D.C. in the summer, it’s hard to understand what I mean when I say words like “humid,” “stuffy,” or “utterly unbearable.” However, these words most accurately describe the climate that hit me like a runaway semi as I stepped off the plane at Reagan National Airport. We arrived on Saturday, giving two whole days for preparation before the arrival of the press on Tuesday. In my experience, the biggest threat to the success of an event is believing that you have plenty of time. If you lose your sense of urgency, you’re going to get blindsided. Luckily, as one of my colleagues put it, “This isn’t our first rodeo.”
The purpose for my trip was to help with the unveiling of the new Freightliner Cascadia Evolution to industry and business press. The event piggybacked on the annual dealer meeting, a production intended for 600 people, lending a slightly hyperbolic scale to the press conference of only about 40. Having said that, Washington, with its massive monuments and impressive neoclassical government buildings, is a city of hyperbole, and the debut of the most fuel efficient commercially available truck should be no exception.
The exhibit hall reserved for the reveal was roughly the size of a cathedral; more than adequate space for a 100 foot stage, a large backstage area, 17 Freightliner trucks (old and new), Detroit engine and axle displays, audience seating for 600, and probably an Olympic-sized swimming pool if the occasion had called for it (idea for next year?). The city itself informed the aesthetics of the event. The 50 foot structural beams were draped to resemble Doric columns, the stage recalled the stately east façade of the US Capitol Building, and, most importantly, Maryland crab cakes were served with every meal.
Needless to say it takes a lot of work to transform a space that size, but the final product was so immaculate one might think the stage, vehicles, and displays simply grew there. The hours of preparation were only reflected in the backstage area. Rows upon rows of laptops and desk lamps illuminated the otherwise total darkness. Half-drank cups of coffee, crumpled granola bar wrappers, and bits of breakfast lingering on the tables indicated late nights and early mornings for the production team.
For an event like this, perfection is in the details. The first time I walked into the exhibit hall the production team was meticulously rehearsing the reveal moment where the curtain falls and gives the audience its first glimpse of the new Cascadia. I’d wager that by Wednesday, the Evolution had probably been revealed at least a dozen times. Sixteen hours before show time they moved one truck two feet to the right. They re-spaced the chairs and angled them precisely. They polished and re-polished the chrome. They fixed a small typo in the presentation. When each word on the screen appears three feet tall, the difference between “Diamler” and “Daimler” is massive. Meanwhile, thunderstorms threatened to ground all planes in the DC area. We had a bit of luck and all but three members of the industry press arrived in time for the Tuesday evening crab cake and cocktail reception.
Bright and early Wednesday morning, press and DTNA executives gathered to witness the unveiling of the Cascadia Evolution. Being neither an engineer, nor a member of the sales and marketing team, I’m not qualified to extol all the revolutionary new features of the Cascadia Evolution. Suffice to say, the vehicle’s contributions to the future of transportation are so significant, that the US Secretary of Transportation, the honorable Ray LaHood, came to speak at the event. This was the bit I was most excited for as it gave me a chance to practice my paparazzi skills. I surreptitiously snapped pictures and video, attempting to blend in with the trucks, as the CEO and GM of Marketing and Strategy toured the exhibition hall with LaHood.
Given the amount of time and effort that was devoted to ensuring the reveal ran smoothly, it was all over very quickly. I couldn’t tell from looking at the faces of the journalists what they would say about the Evolution. I am embarrassed to admit I peeked over the shoulders of the people who were posting on Twitter to find out their handles and read their live tweets. In the end, the response was extremely positive. Freightliner was even featured in USA Today.
For me, LaHood aptly captured the spirit of the event. He said, “Transportation is not a partisan issue.” Of course it was a PR and a marketing event, but politics aside, it was also display of progress and strides made towards real sustainable mobility. And being only slightly biased, I can say I was proud to be there as a witness in my country’s capitol.
Get more impressions about the new Cascadia Evolution in the following Video: