Hooniverse Asks: Is the Detroit Auto Show as important as it used to be?

On the calendar of North American auto shows, it’s always been Detroit , Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago occupying the top spots for most significant events of the year. The North American International Auto Show (NAIAS), which has been held in Detroit’s Cobo Center since 1965, takes up almost one million square feet of floor space. It’s there where the automakers battle it out for your attention, for those important bits of news. And then the public floods in, which is where automakers hope to turn news and attention into sales at the dealerships.

Detroit though, as lost a lot of its luster. Auto shows in general are seemingly less important that they used to be. All of the new car information that anyone needs is available at all times from that tiny supercomputer held in their hands. The spec sheets are easily accessed. Reviewer impressions are taken in and digested. The entirety of a vehicle’s given pros and cons list can be disseminated in a near instant. It’s less important for the consumer to spend a day walking the lanes of their nearest auto show.

And it’s less important for manufacturers to even show up.

This year in Detroit, I was surprised to find a number of large automakers were not on site. There were no Jaguar or Land Rover products to ogle. BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, and Porsche didn’t bring their Teutonic treats. Mazda was not in the building with its zoom-zoom family. There was nary a nice new Volvo to be found. Yes, FCA, Ford, and GM were all on hand. They have to be, as this is their relative home turf. But the lack of others was glaring, even if the NAIAS folks tried to fill the hole with a legion of exotic and tuner cars.

Embrace the future tech?

That space may have been better served by moving the various forward-looking mobility companies out of a random corner and into this larger spot. There at least we could have show goers wowed by interesting future tech instead of matte paint, body kits, and a lone Hummer H1. It was as if the H1 was standing as a silent sentinel, guarding the glorious past of the Detroit Auto Show. Except no one was paying it any mind. It need not guard anything, because no one cares anymore.

Some cool, exciting, long-awaited cars arrived this year. But it’s not enough for Detroit. Los Angeles and New York have stolen most of the thunder. Detroit doesn’t appear to be as important as it used to be.

Can it return to its auto show glory days?

[Image source: NY Daily News]

28 Comments

  1. No.

    1. People no longer need to wait until January to learn about new features and models. The internet takes care of that in real time, as soon as the information is cleared for release, and sometimes sooner.

    2. The Big Three are no longer the only game in town, and not only is their market share diluted, but there are a number of car factories in states that are not Michigan.

    3. #metoo has diminished the raison d’être of booth babes.

    1. Honestly, the diminishing raison d’etre of booth babes long predates #metoo, if just that women have played a major part of car purchasing decisions for decades now, and automakers recognize it’s kind of stupid to alienate half their potential customers. Of course, the staffing still tends to skew towards good looking people, if just because actors and models tend to have the sort of schedules conclusive to going on tour across the country, and are comfortable speaking in front of crowds. Just as likely to get booth bros as booth babes now though.

          1. So you were about 6 when this picture was taken. You might not remember that Goldie Hawn was already riding to stardom on prime time television with the same schtick.

            But whether or not we want to look at this from a 2019 perspective and ignore the historical context, it was still a dumb promotion. She is sharing a platform with VIN JS27R0B100022, which is the most valuable Mopar on the planet, AND NOBODY IS PAYING ATTENTION TO THE CAR!

            https://media.giphy.com/media/X8xVakeXARV9S/giphy.gif

          2. I remember Goldie Hawn’s bodypaint on Laugh-In…with remarkable clarity. But there is a big difference between being painted by co-workers in a network studio and inviting random strangers to do it in public.

      1. I went to a dealership once which had clear divisions among salespeople for clients. Single men got the sexy lady. Single women got the sexy fella. Couples got the older salespeople who would not make one accuse the other of ogling the salesperson

    2. The big three used to be the three largest automakers on the planet, not just the USA. In addition the USA was also the largest car market on earth for quite a while, and Detroit was the big three’s home show.
      Now the three largest automakers are the Renault/Nissan/Mitsubishi Alliance, Volkswagen Group, and Toyota. And China is the world’s largest car market.

      As an international show, in the time of the internet, and at a time when the yearly model changes are far less extensive, the yearly motor show is far less relevant than it was, and having a show in the middle of winter in a small, formerly great city makes it even less so. Add in to that, the remaining makers in the US prefer to be truckmakers, not car makers, it’s easy to see the Detroit Auto Show’s time has gone.

    1. Only 7 more years until 250. Maybe that will get something.

      I remember growing up in the 1970s, EVERYTHING was available with a bicentennial/colonial motif. Pitchers, glassware, toys (Hot Wheels), home decor, you name it. I was 3-4 in 1976, but for years after I remember stuff around the house. It was like 4th of July for about 5 years.

      1. Just a couple years older than you, identical story. Pretty sure there are a few pictures of me with my younger sisters over the years, decked out in RW&B outfits on the 4th.

  2. Car shows, in general, don’t have the same meaning that they used to, but the crowd at the NAIAS will still be huge, even with this weekend’s shitty weather forecast. People still attend car shows. It’s just that rather than going to see what the new and concept cars are, they are going to see the new and concept cars in person, and now they know beforehand whether there is anything there that they want to see. I’m not going this year. I went in 2016 particularly to see the Buick Avista. Both of those facts are because I already know what’s at the show.

  3. On the one hand you can argue the internet makes the need for a physical show unnecessary, yet in the digital sphere, meatworld shows like CES an E3 have never been more popular, and that’s before you get into PT Barnum level chancer fests like web summit. Go figure.…

  4. I fear the Detroit show is dead (and yeah, I’m going there Saturday assuming enough TSA and air traffic control professionals show up to work). Shows can survive in the bigger markets of LA and New York. But that’s mainly because the public likes cars – even those who don’t own a jalopy, as is the case in New York.

    Some of the big debuts now are outside the L.A. – Detroit – Geneva – New York structure, and can easily be seen on YouTube and on the online galleries like netcarshow.

    Shocking that Volvo is not on the Detroit floor but is on the Boston floor right now. Yeah, demand for Volvo is very high. But they have brand awareness to work on.

    1. It’s several years ago now that a lot of carmakers decided to drop out of most shows. Volvo, as the example, said “no” to basically everything, bar Frankfurt, Geneva and maybe Beijing and LA? Thus it’s more surprising that they show up in Boston – maybe through a dealer/distributor? – than dropping Detroit.

      1. Manufacturers don’t want their launches to get ‘lost’ in the glut of news from a motor show, and can get more effective ROI than a show stand by holding their own, more interactive events for buyers.

      1. I worry about my flight Saturday from LaGuardia. My first time on Spirit. Plus it might be snowing a little in Detroit, but they can handle it. I might have a JL Wrangler waiting for me in Motown. Woo!

    1. January in Valley Forge wasn’t technically a retreat either, but it certainly wasn’t a win either, and I suspect the weather is better in Valley Forge in January than it is in Detroit.

      Jay and I agee – ain’t nuthin at no auto show worth going to Detroit for…and then you add in the weather. Oh HELL no.

  5. I’m 50 minutes away and haven’t been in over a decade. And I like spending a day in Detroit. It just doesn’t matter anymore with all the internet releases. Sure, I’d rather see things in the flesh, but a winter day in Detroit is better spent doing something other than pushing through the crowd at Cobo looking at what boils down to fancy advertising that I’ve already seen from every angle on my computer.

    Geez, I sound like a grumpy old fart.

      1. Ha! Truer words were never written. Though having children has cured me of ANY need to bring home extra stuff to take up space that’s not taken up by the blast radius surrounding each kid. Plus, with no Secret Ninja Claus this year we all lost a good outlet to get ri— gift old auto show brochures we haven’t looked at in years.

        1. Good point. I took my kids to a car show last year, 5 & 7 yo. then, and it was a bit much for them after only one hour. But it still find some of those articles being shot across the room occasionally.

  6. I grew up in the Toledo area and my parents still live there. For the past 20 years or so NAIAS has been a father and son trip. I drive up from Columbus Friday night and we try to hit the show when the doors open. We’ve used the same little private parking lot that’s only a block from Cobo and we have the same routine for the show to get the most out of it. I actually like it when it snows because it keeps the crowd down a bit.

    Last year I was in Scottsdale so we couldn’t go and this year with so many automakers staying home we decided it wasn’t worth it. Plus, the big draw for me was always the show cars and there have been fewer and fewer of those in recent years.

    We’re still going to have our father son car show trip, however. We’re going to the Detroit Autorama in March.

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