Doug Drives: Why Do We Still Do The Auto Show Thing?

Doug DeMuro
by Doug DeMuro
doug drives why do we still do the auto show thing

I am writing to you today from Los Angeles, California, which is currently 65 degrees Fahrenheit (also known as 1.4 million degrees Celsius) and home to approximately 800 Mercedes G-Wagens per square mile (6.7 million G-Wagens per square kilometer).

I have been driving around Los Angeles for about a day and a half now, and I have very much appreciated all the unique cars I’ve seen. For example, I have already seen: The new Scion iM. The new Smart car. An early 2000s Toyota RAV4 EV. Bright red and bright green examples of Porsche Cayenne GTS. And the new Toyota Prius, which I personally like, even though the vast majority of car enthusiasts believe it to be Satan in hybrid hatchback form.

But the main automotive event going on right now in Los Angeles is not on the streets. It’s inside, at the Notorious B.I.G. Convention Center, where the Los Angeles Auto Show is currently underway. I watched this auto show with great interest, because many exciting new cars were revealed, and then quickly forgotten about moments later when the next exciting new car was revealed.

And so, today, I ask the question that is on the mind of virtually everyone, from automotive PR directors to automotive PR directors’ assistants: Why the hell are we still doing the whole auto show thing?

Years ago, the reason was obvious. In the ‘50s, there wasn’t really any other way to release new cars, unless you were an automotive PR guy and you planned to literally pick up the phone and inform journalists about your latest model, and then describe it to them while they sketched it. Otherwise, you’d have to wait for mail delivery. I am not especially familiar with this aspect of life, but I am told it is slower than e-mail.

So they gathered the automotive press a few times a year, they showed them their new cars, and — BOOM! — the auto show was born! This was a great idea back then, except for the part about how they chose to make the one in Detroit happen in January, when the weather is approximately the same as it is where and when Woolly Mammoths thrived.

But now, in 2015, I think the auto shows are a bizarre, unusual idea, to the point where I believe they’ve actually become detrimental to the whole concept of revealing a new vehicle.

Allow me to explain. Years ago, automotive news was restricted to about two topics, which primarily consisted of a) the new models at the auto show, and b) whatever Hollywood actress John Z. DeLorean was with that month. So these auto shows were a big deal — in fact, the only deal — and the press ate them up and used their stories for months.

These days, however, automotive news is constant and information travels much, much faster. The result is if you’re an automaker looking to release a new car at an auto show, you’ll find it will probably be forgotten only a few moments after it was released. This is because the auto show schedule usually has each automaker press conference arranged in 20-minute intervals, which means you only have 20 minutes to convince people that your car is worth caring about.

The result of this is that if you’re releasing something universally considered to be uninteresting, such as the Scion iM, and you’re being followed by something tremendously interesting, such as that crazy Cadillac Cien concept car from about a decade ago that looked like an angry fighter jet, you’re totally screwed. This brand new car you just spent all this time to design, and build, and create, and market, has just been upstaged during the only 20 minutes you had to actually announce it.

As a result, I think the auto show model is a bit outdated. Since people these days have such an enormous appetite for constant information, I think automakers should instead undertake a different strategy: Announce the car online weeks before the actual auto show. This changes the excitement of the Scion iM from 20 minutes at an auto show to an entire day’s worth of automotive news coverage. Suddenly, the story becomes “A NEW SCION WAS RELEASED TODAY!!!”, instead of “A NEW COOL CADILLAC CONCEPT CAR WAS RELEASED TODAY!!! And also some blue Scion hatchback thing.”

Unfortunately, my strategy idea seems to be rarely used. Toyota recently used it to unveil the new Prius, capturing the hearts and minds of a wide range of aging liberals from all across the country. But in general, everyone seems content with the auto show model as it stands now — and with each new car getting merely 20 minutes of fame.

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  • Drunkonunleaded Drunkonunleaded on Dec 01, 2015

    Except that the auto shows are primarily a means for local dealers to present their new models to the public. Yes, manufacturers reveal new cars at then events. The reasoning is to draw potential customers into booth so they can decide to finance a Fusion for 144 months. Much like this article, the other events at the show are mostly white noise. Cherry picking NAIAS is a poor example simply for the fact that Detroit uses it to showcase their wares on their own turf. The others bring out their big guns because the majority of the motoring press will be at said event. LA is similar, with more of a focus on the left coast. Go to a smaller, more regional, auto show. It's a completely different animal.

  • Ect Ect on Dec 02, 2015

    Every industry has trade shows. Every company in every industry describes the trade shows as a waste of money (which is generally true). But they still go, because they believe they can't afford not to go if all of their competitors are there, along with people from their target customer base. I'm sure the auto industry is no different.

  • Kwik_Shift It was an annoying feature on my 2018 Nissan Sentra SV. Bugs, leaves and snow would disable it. Should have been a better design .
  • Master Baiter A regulator's job is never done, so yeah, bring on the next level of regulations.
  • DedBull The automatic braking system in my wife's 2019 Tiguan is easily defeated by the slightest amount of solid precipitation, which is not uncommon here in western Pennsylvania. Fortunately we have regular speed-holding cruise control, because the active cruise control uses the same sensor and becomes inactive in the same conditions. It was infuriating in our loaner. I've had a few false-positives over the years, plus a couple where it didn't like my rate of deceleration. Interestingly it did not intervene at all when I had a deer strike a couple years ago. I don't mind the application of the tech, but I think they are setting a pretty high bar going forward. I'm also cautious of over-reliance on tech in vehicles.
  • FreedMike The AEB system on my car has actually engaged only once in the two years I've owned it, mainly because I actually pay attention. But not everyone does...thus, this proposal. If everyone was as diligent as I am, I'd say there's no need, but we all know how that movie ends.if it keeps some moron in a Tahoe who's busy f**king around on TikTok from laying waste to my car from behind, I'm all for it.
  • Lou_BC I've seen photo's of plates that spell "azzhole" when viewed in the rear view mirror. There was a fellow in Canada who's last name was "Grabher". They wouldn't let him have that plate.