To paraphrase Andy Williams (or Johnny Mathis, depending on your personal preference), it’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.
Next week, TTAC will be bringing you live coverage from the floor of the North American International Auto Show in glorious downtown Detroit, including the exciting reveal of the … umm … come on, Bark, think. I know something exciting will be revealed, right?
Just kidding. We’ll see the new BMW M2 coupe, and a bunch of incredibly exciting crossovers. Regardless, it will be hard for this year’s big show to match the excitement of last year’s event: there’s no Ford GT painted in an unobtainium shade of blue and no Shelby GT350R doing smoldering donuts around it. But it’s still NAIAS, and that still means something.
Or does it?
A case could be made that NAIAS isn’t even the most important car show taking place in January. With the ever-changing technology present inside our cars today (and its increased rate of evolution), the Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas is becoming just as important as NAIAS, Chicago, New York, Geneva … you name it. CES can stand toe-to-toe with any show out there when it comes to generating excitement and enthusiasm, and it’s only going to continue trending in that direction.
As a Gen Xer, I grew up fascinated by zero-to-60 times and horsepower numbers. The only exciting technology that existed in the interior of the cars I dreamed of was when we switched from tape decks to CD players (no, my first car, a 1994 Volkswagen Jetta III GL, did not have a CD player). When I got my 1988 Porsche 944, the previous owner had it fitted with an Airtouch analog car phone that I could have activated for $50 a month and $1.50 per minute if I wanted. That was automotive technology in the ’90s.
However, when I talk to car dealers today, they tell me their coveted Gen Yers (I hate the word Millennial) are much more interested in the bells and whistles than they are in the roars and tire squeals. One dealer recently asked me, “How can I sell a Mazda3 to kids when the Hyundai Elantra comes with Bluetooth standard for less money?” They don’t care how the car drives. They view it as a giant, rolling iPads. A Gen-Y friend of mine recently based her CUV purchase decision entirely upon which one offered 4G LTE in its cabin, presumably so she could ensure that her children will never, ever have to bother her while they are on drives together. The screen-based parenting of the home can now be safely and easily transferred into your new Chevrolet Equinox with 4G LTE!
But as quickly as LTE came upon us, pCell is up next. And so it goes with technology: it evolves faster than we can put it into cars. The next great tech wave can’t wait for the next show to be displayed before hitting the market. We need it now. The slow-moving stegosauruses of the automotive business, the hulking OEMs who need years to develop their technology? They’re at great risk of being snapped up and devoured by tech start-ups that can change direction on a dime. Sure, you can wait for your favorite car brand to put Apple CarPlay into its vehicles — but Gen Yers won’t. They’ll just go out and get aftermarket devices. They won’t wait for NAIAS 2017 to see the latest technology. They’ll already be using it by then. You’ll be old news.
So in this age of Skype and GoToMeeting, why do we need to continue to get all of the knuckle-dragging “Wheels” page writers together in a big convention hall, just so they can traipse around in their cotton Dockers and black shoes and collect free swag? Get rid of the big speakers and LCD screens, OEMs. Ditch the booth babes.
Send me a video conference invite with the press kit attached at the bottom, and take all the money you would have spent on your convention space to increase incentives for customers. You don’t have to court the endless hordes of press kit rewriters with buffets. You’ll still get your sweet SEO candy from them, regardless, and you won’t have to deal with their iPhone 4S photography of your gorgeous products.
In the future, I think auto shows will become much like the NFL Combine. The first round picks never run at the combine. The top QBs don’t have to throw. They wait for their own private workouts where they can control the environment. They can invite exactly who they want, they can run exactly the drills they want, and they don’t have to be treated like … well, like cars at an auto show. It’s the guys who are trying to sneak into the seventh round who need the combine.
The big boys, like Ford and Toyota, don’t need the auto show. They can make their own news whenever they want. If they choose to stop playing the game, the shows will cease to be relevant. Once they figure that out, the auto show will become the exclusive domain of the Kias and Acuras of the world — the seventh-round picks.
Until then, however, we’ll keep bringing you the reveals and the news as it comes to light next week. But, as always, I have to ask, who benefits from this? Is it you, the consumer? Or is it the symbiotic relationship between the OEM and the press? I think we all know the answer to that one.