By on November 30, 2015

Scion C-HR Concept (54 of 74)

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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40 Comments on “Doug Drives: Why Do We Still Do The Auto Show Thing?...”


  • avatar
    Ltd1983

    Auto shows for me are just an opportunity to sit in a bunch of new cars at the same time for some quick back-to-back comparisons. I find that if I dress like a slob I don’t even have to waste my time waving the booth girls away when they try to explaining a car to me… they just avoid me.

    • 0 avatar
      WheelMcCoy

      ” I find that if I dress like a slob I don’t even have to waste my time waving the booth girls away when they try to explaining a car to me… they just avoid me.”

      Heh.. I hear you, but it’s still not a skill I’d want to cultivate. But yes, at a car show, I was able to do research for a friend, sitting in the RAV4, CR-V, CX-5 and getting stats, photos, and first impressions. I also got some freebies here and there.

      Also, I was able to sit in fun cars and see what auto-journalists keep describing as “snik-snik.” Unfortunately, auto-makers remove the shift knob, presumably because they are too often stolen.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      Blegh…. car show girls, bless their hearts. I hate what their presence says about auto enthusiasts. “Oh you like cars? You must also be a loser for whom interacting with attractive women is a special occasion”. It shows how low of an opinion automakers have of fans of their cars. I would rather they bring out the folks who designed, engineered and tuned the cars.

      • 0 avatar
        WheelMcCoy

        I haven’t been to a Comic-Con or StarTrek convention, but I imagine there are booth babe equivalents. I really don’t see the presence of car show girls as “You must also be a loser for whom interacting with attractive women is a special occasion.” They are just part of the ambiance.

        But yes, in addition to car show girls, I would certainly like to listen to and meet the designers and engineers behind the cars.

        • 0 avatar
          Car-los

          WMc I agree with you. Those girls are just part of a commercial ambiance, sex sells idea. I wish they were topless though…

          • 0 avatar
            sportyaccordy

            See, these are the kinds of l….ads the car companies must be appealing to. I’m ashamed to have to be associated with such people. I get to see breasts every day. I don’t need to go to a car show for that.

          • 0 avatar
            RideHeight

            “I get to see breasts every day.”

            Nyuk, nyuk… and way better ones than will ever be on a car show booth babe!

      • 0 avatar
        Maymar

        Well yes, but the engineers are much more useful actually designing cars than spending six months of the year touring the national auto show circuit, just to spend 12 hours a day answering “well, yes, you get the remote starter on the SE, but it’s not available in dark titanium, just galaxy silver.”

        I worked the circuit one year as a product ambassador, and outside of a few students from the automotive program I attended at the time, most of the staff were actors or models, the sort who could justify doing it for several months (also, good with scripted dialog). But, we had a few fairly knowledgeable members on staff who’d been doing this for at least a decade, who tended to be kept in a central location to answer the harder questions.

        • 0 avatar
          WheelMcCoy

          “Well yes, but the engineers are much more useful actually designing cars than spending six months of the year touring the national auto show circuit,”

          Fair point. Although Mazda fans will recognize Dave Coleman who makes himself available on the internet and at car launches, explaining and answering technical and design questions.

          I appreciate his ability to reach out. But by all means, keep talented people where they can do the most good.

      • 0 avatar
        Ltd1983

        Exactly, I kind of resent their presence. Just a more G-rated version of a woman in a string bikini hanging off the hood of a hot rod. Just because I like cars does not mean I drag my knuckles, and only do this when I’m not watching football…I thought that cliche stuff died in the 90’s. Do any hot rod magazines even still put girls on the covers?

        • 0 avatar
          raph

          Oh yeah, some magazines have a feature girl and have a “babe of the month” section where woman can submit photos of themselves and the types of cars featured in the magazine.

          Honestly I don’t think I’ve ever heard a guy say he bought magazine “x” because of the cover girl. Most of the time the car was the star and if the model was something exceptional she would get mentioned.

          Generally when the magazine is geared toward an older audience its more about the cars and less about the skin.

          Magazines geared toward your average guy where his high school diploma is still at the printing press or the ink is still wet tend to feature more scantily clad fenales. Really I think more in line with what Sporty is saying to be honest much in the same way the F&F franchise glamorizes,the street racing scene.

  • avatar
    dwford

    It’s not that the idea of the auto show is outdated, it’s that there are no secrets or surprises anymore. Between the spy photos and the “leaks,” we know everything before the new car is even unveiled. It is rare that there is an actual surprise reveal at an auto show.

    I was surprised about the updated Lincoln MKZ, because I hadn’t read anything about it being updated that dramatically, seen any spy photos, or even heard it was being revealed in LA. So it was a nice surprise.

    What may be outdated is the idea of the concept car. Many automakers have given up on it totally, a few unveil production models with only a couple tweaks and call them concepts. We rarely see a true concept car. The best we get is the concept car as preview of a production car, which usually ends up with the production car being a disappointment – see Nissan Maxima and Subaru Impreza as the latest examples.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    “I have been driving around Los Angeles for about a day and a half now…”

    Yes, that’s about how long it takes to get from Hollywood to Santa Monica!

  • avatar
    sproc

    I think this misses the point of the smaller city car shows that make them so much more fun and valuable. New model launches and exotic concepts are cool, but I’m fine reading about them online. I just enjoy looking at dozens of current makes and models at the same time without all the hassle of going to multiple dealerships. It’s also a great way to find out if a car that you thought might have potential for you has some quality that’s an instant turn-off like a bad seat or some other styling/ergonomic quirk that’s not apparent in pictures, but there’s no way you’re tolerating it for the next 3-10 years.

    • 0 avatar
      dwford

      So true. I go to NYC every year for the auto show, and it is always a mad house and you can barely get to the cars. I went to my local auto show last week and it was nice to be able to actually see the cars, even though the show was tiny compared to NYC.

    • 0 avatar
      Syke

      Besides, you’ve got a chance to look the car over without the ever present salesman knawing on your elbow and bugging you about what kind of payment you can afford.

      Any chance to look at a new car without a salesman is worth taking.

  • avatar
    SlowMyke

    As far as your scion example, did they really put all that much work into it? Mazda did the heavy lifting and created a fantastic little car. Scion then took it and gave one of the best looking modern sub compacts one of the worst hoover treatments imaginable and stuck their name and Steve Urkel in it.

    But yeah, your point stands as far as press releases go for new cars. With the internet, it’s not about getting the journalists to the new cars now so much as the consumers. As pointed out above, all the inane “leaks” and “spy shots” make the actual auto show just a formality to release a new car/ concept. Now with around a million people visiting the big shows, it’s just to get people looking at your cars and shovel rainforests worth of ad paper at them to fill their nice little eco-conscious branded bags.

    • 0 avatar
      EJWoods

      That would be the Scion iA, the iM is essentially the Toyota Auris muddled about a bit for our market.

      If all vehicle debuts were done outside of the major auto shows, it may help capture the headlines better for a few days, but it would pretty much guarantee only a handful of main sources would be able to be on hand for a live reveal.

      Personally, I like the fact that the shows allow us to see live ‘in-the-metal’ coverage from a plethora of sites, not just C and D, R&T, Motor Trend, TTAC, etc…

  • avatar
    Waftable Torque

    I did something in 2014 and 2015 that I hadn’t since 1988: I missed the local auto show. As much as I like looking and dreaming about cars, it’s easy now for me to feel blasé and ennui. Most of those dream cars from 15 or 20 years ago have been crushed or are rusted jalopies today worth pennies on the dollar. I feel like it’s a carnival designed to stoke dissatisfaction in what you have, and you’re just 60 payments away from happiness, and they’ll take your money again in 2021 telling you the same story.

    Excuse me while I backpack to India for a year to find myself.

    • 0 avatar
      SlowMyke

      I feel pretty much the exact same way you do. I’ve started going every other year or so now for the past five years, and only once. I get through the show in about a third or the time I used to and come away with only a small handful of photos. The endless hype has turned me off of the scene. I still like the shows, but it’s much more apparent you are being force fed advertising at every step.

      All that, and I think most new cars are hideous and the models are the same anorexic cliches every year.

  • avatar

    The reveal needs to go away. badly. A month of shadowy photos and closeups of headlights is pointless.

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      Agreed. They need to learn from Apple’s marketing style, don’t let anything leak then drop a bomb during a private invite only event. Look at how much more press Ford got when the newest GT40 came out, total shocker because nobody knew it was coming.

      I normally just go to one car show a year… and that is Barrett Jackson West Palm Beach. Overall I don’t do car shows because I’m more interested in used car offerings I can afford instead of the latest and greatest. I do like the concept cars, just for their craziness.

  • avatar
    tedward

    I completely agree that the manufacturers are utterly wasting their press conferences at auto shows. Announcing that a car exists can be made more engaging and entertaining than that. It’s also a waste to bring in their executive teams when they aren’t going to be speaking at length. Seriously, these companies have whole departments dedicated to public engagement and we get the awkward ceo routine every time.

    The shows themselves are great for new car buyers. Nothing broken to fix there, it’s really just a convenience for cross shoppers.

    The car companies do these shows because millions of people pay to go to them and be advertised to. It’s really a pretty unique situation for a retail manufacturer.

  • avatar
    NotFast

    Pretty sure the autoshows exist to allow the other 98% of America – who are not car enthusiasts – a chance to check out new cars. The masses that I’ve seen at the Chicago show are nowhere close to being car people & probably have no idea what is going on in the auto industry.

    • 0 avatar
      tedward

      Yeah I think you’ve got that right. The numbers for auto show attendance are extremely eye catching as well. The last set of numbers I saw had show attendance only being outstripped by MLB nationwide and a ridiculous (70+%) being in market for a purchase.

      Not being there would seem insane from a car company’s perspective.

      • 0 avatar
        outback_ute

        Note that Jaguar has announced that they will not be at the Detroit show, no doubt because they have run the numbers and will spend the money in more direct ways to engage their customers.

        Many luxury or smaller brands did the same thing here in Australia, which was a factor in motor show attendance falling and the shows being cancelled.

        I think the lack of concept and other non-production displays is a big factor, the last show I went to was mainly to see the Alfa 8C (which was not sold here).

        Regardless of motor shows, press releases have always been the number one way of communication with the media.

    • 0 avatar
      raph

      Agreed

  • avatar

    I love visiting auto shows. Autojournos and other mind manipulators might not like the shows, but I do.

  • avatar
    RHD

    Whatever that red Scion is, it’s the answer to a question that no one asked.
    The question could be something like “What do you get when you cross a VW New Beetle with something thar could be exterminated with DDT?”

  • avatar
    olddavid

    Admit it, DeMuro, you just hate having to put on pants.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    I love the auto show.

    It’s a chance for me to sit in any car I like, without being hounded by sales people. At 6’6″, it helps me eliminate a lot of cars from consideration.

  • avatar
    spreadsheet monkey

    Maybe, just maybe, auto shows are partly for the mere mortals who aren’t auto journalists? Y’know, the ones who buy cars with their own money.

  • avatar

    I think that there are auto shows because it is fun to go look at the new cars.

  • avatar
    Joss

    I enjoy being ripped at the food concessions. Nothing like $3 water bottle or $9 hot dog.

  • avatar
    jdmcomp

    Speaking as one who has much more history to speak from, car shows are wonderful and a joy to attend, providing you pick the right show to see. Too many shows which are reruns of some previous show presentation. Worn and used looking. However, there are shows, such as the Paris show, which allow one to view vehicles not seen in the US and compare those with the somewhat miserable vehicles we do get to choose from. Open your eyes and quit pretending your are jaded.

  • avatar
    kmars2009

    I have attended the NAIAS in Detroit more times than I can remember, through the 80s, 90s, 00s. I used to live just west of Cleveland, Ohio…it was a 3hr drive each way. As such, I will say that some concepts, and future production vehicles, need to be seen in person to appreciate. Pictures don’t do some vehicles justice. I was also quite surprised some years…like when the Aztek came out of nowhere. I couldn’t believe it was not only there, but approved for production. I also witnessed the debut of the Viper. A car I thought they couldn’t seriously consider building…yet they did. I saw brands come and go…as well as vehicles become stars, while others flop.
    Anyway, my point being…the auto show gives the public a chance to not only dream, but be given the chance to see, touch, and witness what the future may hold. Something a computer simply cannot do. It’s also an event to behold…given you have the energy to see it all.(It’s a huge event) As I have gotten oler, I can only see and do so much, before calling it a day. The rest that I missed always ends up online. The auto show needs to stay…for good!
    PS. When the RollsRoyce Phantom debuted…the lovely ladies on the turntable were so nice, they allowed me to sit in the vehicle on stage ASAP…as they had a cancellation on the waiting list of over 2 hours. They snuck me in and treated me like a king. I couldn’t have been more appreciative, and impressed. No attitude at all.

  • avatar
    Drunkonunleaded

    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.

  • avatar
    ect

    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.


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