We figured it out. Italy's Fiat and its sister companies - Ferrari, Maserati, Alfa Romeo - have a secret, skunk works factory. It does not produce dazzling automotive technology; it produces beautiful women.
That was my conclusion, and the conclusion of roughly 1,000 other reporters, after visiting the vast Fiat exhibition hall Tuesday morning at the Frankfurt Auto Show. Where other car makers employed models who looked like flight attendants, with conservative, below-the-knee skirts and dresses, the Fiat family rolled out the talent. The dozens of girls hired by Fiat looked like they were auditioning for the spring/summer catwalk shows in Paris or Milan. They were universally tall and slim with long hair and provocatively short skirts. Some wore leather dresses, many wore knee-high leather boots, all had 4-5 inch heels.
And they knew how to pout. Point a camera at them, and they immediately went into model mode - hips forward, shoulders back, as they leaned against the sleek Italian cars. When they weren't being photographed, they looked bored, unapproachable and vaguely pissed off. How perfect.
The girls at the Fiat display attracted the most attention, not because they were more glamorous than their rivals at Ferrari and Alfa, but because of the way they were dressed: Short plaid skirts, white bobby socks, tight green vests over white blouses. You guessed it - Fiat went out of their way to make them look like high school girls with things other than homework on their minds. I guess it was supposed to fit into youthful theme of Fiat's presentation.
But even some of the most jaded hacks thought Fiat had gone too far with school girl get-up. Eric Mayne, of Wardsauto.com, said "this would never fly in Detroit." The Italian journalists, of course, barely noticed. To them, it's impossible to imagine Italian car displays without the sexy women.
For more from the Frankfurt auto show, read Jeremy Cato's blog, Driving It home: Bet on Polo for Canada