By on January 10, 2017

2018 LS500 at NAIAS

Ask anyone who was there, and attendees of this year’s North American International Auto Show will likely describe an event lacking luster. Depleted of energy. Devoid of the excitement that normally comes from splashy, much-anticipated launches.

Could it be that the Consumer Electronics Show held a week earlier in sunny Las Vegas sapped some of the life out of Detroit? Consider this: the top-selling midsize car in the U.S. — the Toyota Camry — suffered through an underwhelming unveiling that should have had people talking. At least, more than the number who did.

What were radio news segments talking about on the way to this year’s show? Highlights of the just-wrapped-up CES. Oh, that Chrysler Portal. My, what a car that Faraday Future FF 91 is. A taste of the future, the tech geeks gushed. So, where does this leave traditional auto shows? What becomes of Detroit, New York, Los Angeles, or Chicago? What about Geneva? Paris?

CES aside, we’re already moving towards a landscape where big-ticket reveals and press conferences take place in separate locales chosen by the automaker, rather than consolidated in a single building where OEMs are jammed butt-to-gut with their rivals. This year, Ford lured auto journos away from the Cobo Center to Dearborn, where something secretive could be unveiled on blue Oval soil tonight. (Check back for updates on that mystery.)

Think of the benefits: no tight or overlapping schedules, and nearly unlimited choice in venues. No rival automakers competing for journalists’ attention. What business doesn’t want to control all of the strings?

So, what do you think, Best and Brightest? Is the slow erosion of the auto show’s importance going to continue, or will there always be a home for multiple-manufacturer events? Or, will all auto shows simply morph into “mobility shows,” complete with enough buzzwords to make a journo dive into the Detroit River?

[Image: © 2017 Mark Stevenson/The Truth About Cars]

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57 Comments on “QOTD: When Will Automakers Start Putting on Their Own Auto Shows?...”


  • avatar
    gomez

    I think auto shows will continue to exist in some form, if only to allow potential customers to see vehicles from all the brands in one place. It also gives manufacturers a broader audience to evaluate new design and technology ideas. Kind of like what was done at CES last week.

    But I could see more of the reveals taking place outside of the auto show circuit and closer to the vehicle’s on-sale date. I’m not sure introducing a new model in January only to hold off on making it available for purchase in September has really helped automakers generate the “buzz” they seek, plus it usually reduces demand for the current model. And introducing a new vehicle (not concept) that won’t be available for 12+ months (*cough* EcoSport) helps exactly no one.

    • 0 avatar
      quaquaqua

      Yeah, but isn’t the Chicago auto show the only one that’s really meant to display most every car you can buy? The others seem to be more about reveals and press events.

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      Bingo. Telsa already does this. I think in the near future more companies will follow their lead. Apple never goes to CES instead they always launch their products at their own special show so they can control it. This generates even more buzz and allows you to capitalize on that interest right away. Why launch your product at the same time as your competition? This immediately threatens that your message / product will lost in the noise.

      However I agree that auto shows will not go away, its just the big reveal part that is scheduled to align with a particular show date / location that needs to go.

      Also Detroit in January? Whose bright idea was this? Miami or Vegas is where you want to be in winter because its 70 degrees and sunny vs 20 and slushy.

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

        Now that last part I agree with, even though the Detroit show has always (?) been in January.

        The Detroit area is absolutely wonderful in June, while at that time, Florida is boiling hot and often swamped with lovebugs (look them up, they’re awful). That would make more sense to hold the Detroit show in the summer, and relocate to Florida or Phoenix for January.

      • 0 avatar
        Kyree S. Williams

        Well, that and the stuff that Apple releases becomes available during or shortly after WWDC.

        • 0 avatar
          gomez

          Yep and Apple is immediately able to cash in on the buzz by making the products available within a few weeks of announcement. When you announce a car in January but not selling until September, the buzz dies down. I understand that automakers need a longer lead time than electronics manufacturers to retool their factories. But Honda demonstrated perfectly how to adapt the Apple model with the latest CR-V: announce in October and have it on dealer lots in December. You don’t significantly reduce demand for the current model and the buzz around the new model is still relatively fresh.

    • 0 avatar
      threeer

      Maybe Carmax should just host regional shows as they already stock so many cars from different manufacturers. While I lived in Detroit for years, it would be sad to see the show go…but it does seem to have lost some of its luster…

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

        Carmax doesn’t sell new cars, so I’m not sure it would be good business sense to sponsor an event dedicated to cars it won’t get its hands on until Avis and Hertz are through with them.

        Maybe a better fit would be something like AutoNation, which sells new cars from many manufacturers (how many different ones I’m not sure).

        Edit: perhaps the N.A.D.A.?

        • 0 avatar
          87 Morgan

          I am at NADA convention every year. The manufacturers have huge booths with all of their new offerings. I recall seeing the Colorado 3 years ago, only the windows were black, completely, because the interior was not done. The same booth had the new Suburban/Tahoe as well. I want to say 2014 in New Orleans, which is where we are headed in three weeks.

          NADA can be expensive to attend and wonky if you are not a car dealer. The average ‘joe’ public I would think does not want to walk around a square mile convention floor looking at lifts, garage door companies, garage fan Co’s, banks, insurance Co’s, so and so forth to find the manufacturer booths.

  • avatar
    JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

    Perhaps more people would be excited about an all-new Camry if it didn’t look like *another* facelift. I’m not saying it IS just a facelift, not at all. But, it honestly isn’t that much of a departure (styling wise) from the current gaping maw Camry. They just made the Toyota logo’s position and such similar to the Rav4, with some new Prius-like tail lamps. Let’s not kid ourselves, its hardly groundbreaking.

    Its also tough to generate excitement when you throw around the phrase “all-new” every time you revise the front and rear facia (as has been done on the past few Camrys). People become numb to the phrase, it simply doesn’t carry the weight it used to.

    So, there was a new Camry. And a refreshed F-150. That’s. About. It.

    Its not rocket science. When you have exciting debuts like the Ford Raptor and GT last year, you have more excitement. A new, not terribly different Camry and a slightly revised F-150 aren’t enough to get people’s heart thumping and the conversation flowing.

    One relatively boring event doesn’t mean the end of autoshows as we know them.

    • 0 avatar
      OldManPants

      Camry is what’s wrong with this country!

      Drive old junkers and MAGA!

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

        I had to Google MAGA. I followed the election as little as humanly possible, so I guess I missed out on some buzz. Funny. I don’t feel like I missed out on much.

        There is nothing particularly wrong with the new Camry, it just isn’t exciting, and that is my point.

        I appreciate the personal slap about “old junkers”. I guess if you’re not well off enough to buy new cars, you’re not allowed to comment on them?

        If I were ashamed of driving a car from 1995, I could probably do a better job of hiding the fact that I do, dontchya think?

    • 0 avatar
      Nick_515

      “One relatively boring event doesn’t mean the end of autoshows as we know them.”

      DEATHWATCH!!!

      • 0 avatar
        OldManPants

        Looks like river-diving auto journos don’t much matter; the great unwashed seem to love at least the Detroit show:

        detroitnews.com/story/business/autos/detroit-auto-show/2016/01/24/detroit-auto-show-vehicles-remain-stars-last-day/79273272/

        815,575 visitors had to leave some worthwhile money behind. I had no idea.

    • 0 avatar
      ponchoman49

      About the only people I ever hear getting even remotely excited about a revised Camry are elderly folks. You know the ones driving around in plastic hub capped 4 cylinder LE rental car specials in beige or silver with the proverbial smashed in rear bumper end caps.

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    The major reveal show will die.

    Outside of NY, LA, Detroit, and sometimes Chicago, all the other cities have what are called “Dealer Shows”. These have a national sponsor (the one in Las Vegas is sponsored by Motor Trend) as well as support from the manufacturers who supply displays & signs. But the cars themselves are provided by local dealers.

    These sorts of shows will continue, and perhaps the former “big shows” will become more like them, but the days of the Big Reveal at major shows is indeed dying.

    • 0 avatar
      tedward

      Eggsalad

      Motor trend owns the company that produces the shows. That “sponsored by” line is some internal cross promotion. They probably don’t need a benevolent sponsor, they have ticket holders in the tens of millions nationally and then there’s the massive display fees.

      The business case for the shows themselves is crystal clear, I’d argue the same for the vehicle displays. I completely agree with the articles point though, that as a venue for vehicle launches they leave a lot to be desired. There’s just not much control to be had and in the digital media, cheap flights era a brand could speak to all these same media outlets without competing for their attention with competitors.

      I think brands should host their own reveals and then immediately push concept cars etc into the show circuit. That sounds like a best of both worlds use of resources. Also, we all need to stop encouraging ceo’s to take up the mic. They don’t have the skills for this and really, what ate they going to add to the press releases aside from their gaffes?

  • avatar
    OldManPants

    So what are the metrics? Was attendance down? Who owns the venue and profits most? Are they making sad noises?

    Surely there have been plenty of other pud years for these shows; is this year’s dramatically less successful than in the past?

    I have the curiosity of the totally uninvolved, like with NFL franchises; I couldn’t care less about the Packers but as a local economic bastion they’re huge.

    That little rustbelted town would fall into the Fox River and float away without them.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      +1.

      In my case, it’s the Steelers, Pirates, and Penguins. Pittsburgh must be the only 300k person city with 3 major-league teams; collectively, they own this city 24/7/365. The taxpayer underwriting of these businesses sickens me – always hustled through by the politicians (D), who have ruled this town without interruption since 1933.

      Sorry; you pushed a button that is hard for me to turn off.

  • avatar
    Middle-Aged Miata Man

    How did attendance and “excitement” compare to 2008?

    Trade shows can serve as proverbial canaries in the coal mine for what’s to come…

  • avatar
    NexWest

    Back in the 50’s GM had traveling shows: Motorama and Powerama.

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      And Ford had the Routunda — in Detroit, not a traveling show.

      GM has an annual event right around model-year changeover, as well, at the Toledo Hydra-Matic plant which builds the 8-speed slusher for the Corvette, among other things: at least one example of every vehicle in the GM lineup is on display for the public. I would guess that there are similar events that take place around the country.

  • avatar

    Meanwhile, Google decided to use the NAIAS, not the CES, to reveal their latest autonomous driving hardware. Also, automotive news dominated what’s supposed to be a trade show for consumer electronics.

    As for buzzwords about mobility, Detroit is the city that coined the phrase, “you don’t want to become a buggy whip manufacturer.” You don’t want to be obsoleted and you can’t have a narrow mind about what industry you are in. Companies in the carriage trade thought they were in the buggy business and ignored automobiles (well, the ones who didn’t, unlike Wm C. Durant, see the potential in the newfangled machine). Railroads thought they were in the railroad business and didn’t see airlines as a threat. Billy Ford and Mark Fields are correct to see that Ford isn’t so much in the car business as it’s in the transportation business.

    Funny thing is, automakers used to be more widely diversified in most areas of transportation. They built locomotives, airplane engines and heavy trucks and rockets for the space race.

  • avatar
    NexWest

    Powerama 1955 Chicago. GM shows off their Diesel tech and some military hardware, such as the atomic cannon! https://archive.org/details/ChicagoGeneralMotorsPowerama

  • avatar
    DeadWeight

    The North American International Auto Show has devolved into a boring, mundane, drab, talk-too-much, blah-blah-blah YAWNAPALOOZA during one of the coldest winter months in Detroit, where even the models aren’t even that attractive anymore.

    Instead of going for relevant, truly sexy vehicles and female auto show models, back when I was a lad, where even the average consumer could acquire a SWAG bag, sit in even the hottest new vehicles, and tug on the shirt skirts of leggy p, hot female models, now it’s a parasitic auto-journosaurist (with balding heads, coffee breath, and flubber, congregating like brainless sheep around the pastry tables), where some of the best manufacturers skip it entirely, others (like GAC from China) display self-disintegrating interior vehicles and blender-mobiles that are as exciting as kitchenaid appliances, while auto spokesman talk about autonomous, self-driving, a$$-wiping, toast-making, email-sending-shrub-pruning, swiss army knife-mobiles in the background (with the tone and cadence of people on high doses of benzodiazepines).

    • 0 avatar
      OldManPants

      ‘Derek Burger, a Canton Township resident, sat in a Burgundy 2016 GMC Sierra 1500, with his 8-year-old son to get a feel for the vehicle.

      Burger said the event was great.

      “I like it,” said Burger.’

      Hurr… you appear to have been contradicted 815,575 times, DW.

      • 0 avatar
        DeadWeight

        I’m glad the 8 hear old had a good time sitting in the same truck he could’ve sat in a mile or two from his house and his dad delegates household purchase decisions to the 8 hear old.

        I got a kick out of going to the Detroit Auto Show (I call it that) when I was 8, too, but the world was much different then, and the show has only gotten less relevant, filled with more bull$hit, and filed to evolve with modern times since then.

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          You must be a blast at parties…

        • 0 avatar
          sportyaccordy

          There are a couple of minor differences between sitting in that truck at the show and at the dealer that you missed in your ongoing crusade to be the next Paul DeLorenzo…..

          For starters…. no pressure at the show. At the dealer, as soon as you walk in, you’re swarmed. To add to that, all the truck’s competitors are under the same roof, making for easy direct comparisons. Those two things alone make the price of admission worth it. The dealer piece of auto shows is its biggest (and IMO only) asset.

          • 0 avatar
            bunkie

            This. And it goes beyond looking at the vehicles that are on the “hit list”. It provides an opportunity to look at vehicles one would, normally, not consider.

    • 0 avatar
      bikegoesbaa

      Some people get really excited about those Kitchenaid appliances.

      Not my thing, but any of the serious home bakers or cooks I know can talk for hours about them.

  • avatar
    ajla

    I’ve had some fun at the NAIAS and local auto shows so I hope they stick around.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    The auto show will eventually die.

    I like the shows, because they permit me to sit in the vehicles without any pressure to buy one, and it really helps me narrow the acceptable crop that will fit me.

    But as the dealer model slowly dissolves (thanks to Tesla’s efforts), mfrs and dealers will lose interest in spending money on these shows.

    Plus, what is the business case for the auto show? Can anyone really connect sales to these splashy events?

    • 0 avatar
      yamahog

      “Can anyone really connect sales to these splashy events?”

      No. And if I were the youngin at Cadillac instead of Melody Lee, I’d plow the event marketing cost savings directly into important things like dealer incentives and EBITDA.

    • 0 avatar
      DeadWeight

      The shows like the NAIAS made sense before the internet, a flood of information and videos and specs and immersive online experiences were available (POV auto drives on youtube), before the massive growth in dealerships, including megadealerships & no-pressure ones, etc.

      The world has changed incredible ways between the 1950s or 1980s or even 1990s (when no YouTube, smartphones, etc.) and today.

      The shows are lame by today’s standards. 90% of the vehicles on display are vanilla, and the spicy o es are usually locked and/or behind ropes, anyways.

      • 0 avatar
        ponchoman49

        I could care a less about the internet and tiny little pictures that do no justice whatsoever to many cars or trucks. I occasionally like to get off my ass and actually look at and sit in a vehicle to see if I like it or not. Yes the world has sadly changed in many ways and the internet is a double edged sword that has brought online shopping, information and much ease into so many homes but on the flip side has killed off so many businesses, removed much tax revenue from cities and suburbs and has made us much lazier.

        I also hate when these shows lock up the really new stuff and keep them roped off. Very annoying.

      • 0 avatar
        bunkie

        There is a difference between information gleaned over the internet and that obtained by first-hand experience. Reading what some person says about how comfortable a seat is isn’t the same as planting myself in said seat and seeing and feeling for myself.

    • 0 avatar
      Richard Chen

      And by no coincidence, Tesla is the company that holds its own auto show with the Model 3 unveiling. No press embargoes, no dealer schmoozing.

  • avatar
    Fred

    CES is nothing to get excited about. Well, unless you are a fan of “internet of shit”

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Meh, I’ll still attend the shows. But I’ll attend on Saturday night, after dinner…the least attended time. Otherwise, you get no chance to sit in anything.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    They already do – just visit a dealership.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      And put up with the zero-IQ sales “experience”?

      Yeah, I’ll pass.

      If these car shows prove anything, it’s that people love cars, and love looking at them so much they’ll actually pay to do so while avoiding dealers. There’s a lesson there for dealerships, if they’re listening.

      (Back off the lookers, guys!)

  • avatar
    dougjp

    Maybe one day these shows will get back to being all about the vehicle buyers instead of the manufacturers. You know, complete access to the vehicles, hand outs.

    Shows do give the non enthusiast buyers the chance to avoid multiple dealerships, which they desperately want to do, and see lots of vehicles in one place without excess inconvenience. Its really the only benefit of a car show/electronics show/- – show. It turned into vehicle launches and individual mini shows instead.

  • avatar
    brettc

    I haven’t been to the Detroit Auto Show since the 90s, but I remember going there fondly with my late dad. He wasn’t a car guy, but he knew that his son enjoyed going so he took me for some father-son time.

    We’d park in the city of Windsor’s parking lot near the courthouse, then walk to the shuttle bus and take it over to Cobo Hall. I remember being so excited to be able to get a giant bag filled with brochures and posters and even had a malaise era GM poster up on my wall for a while with a picture of a Z24 Cavilier convertible, Camaro, Corvette, etc. To me it doesn’t seem like going to it as a young kid today would be as special with easy access to every tidbit of car info you could ever want.

    However, sitting in a car without having to deal with a greasy dealership employee is still a pretty awesome thing, so maybe there is still a place for the shows. Mr Burger’s son seems to enjoy it at least and I’m sure that kid will remember those times with his dad fondly as well.

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    I doubt it’s the show and more the cars on display that are turning people off. The new Camry with it’s blacked out roof, hideous grille, mostly carryover engines and Lexus copied styling sure did nothing for me or anybody I know who saw it.

    • 0 avatar
      OldManPants

      Record attendance reflects “turning people off”?

    • 0 avatar
      bhtooefr

      It’s actually not carryover engines from the previous Camry – two of the engines (2.5 and 2.5 hybrid) are actually new and debuting in the new Camry, and the other engine (the V6) is updated (although it’s likely one that we’ve seen in other Toyota and Lexus products, the 2GR-FKS).

  • avatar

    I was there too, and you’re right on all counts (though I thought the Camry was pretty interesting). I think NAIAS is still important and I think it needs to continue for a lot of reasons beyond the media-day debuts — an awful lot of business and news happens “at the show” but away from the show floor. But I’m thinking there’s a lot of merit to Peter DeLorenzo’s suggestion that they move the show to June or something. That would both give it its own space in the calendar — and it would also bring everyone to Detroit at a time of year when the city itself shows a lot better.

    I missed the Ford Dearborn thing, though — I flew home on Tuesday afternoon. (If they showed anything Bronco-related, I’m going to be bummed I missed it. But I bet it was something else.)

  • avatar
    Lichtronamo

    Clearly the autoshow as we know it is dead – or at least the NAIAS certainly is. There was not one legitimate WOW debut this year. Ford showed the new front of the F-150 (and only mentioned the new Ranger/Bronco), GM debuted a bunch of new crossovers, and Toyota the new Camry and LS. No new Zora Corvette seems to be the big miss. Nothing from FCA (aka Jeep/Ram trucks). The Ford and GM products could have happened in Chicago, the Camry in LA and the LS in NYC. I think with social media and the internet, automakers are better off having their own individual debut parties to get the most attention for their newest Big Deal.

  • avatar
    rocketrodeo

    Sounds like an off year for product, and I haven’t seen any coverage of the styling exercises that point to the future direction of the brands’ design language. But NAIAS won’t die anytime soon. Its place in the calendar has historically been tied to the mfrs’ launch cycles, and even if it doesn’t serve that function as much anymore, it does serve the same purpose for auto execs that cons do for sci-fi fans. It’s their hometown con. And for them it brings a little relief from a really bleak time of the year in SE Michigan. It is also, absolutely, Detroit’s biggest single downtown event. Every little bit of revenue helps.

  • avatar
    Mike N.

    BMW has their Ultimate Drive Events, which is a traveling road show where you can test drive a bunch of their cars. They also offer some driving classes, some for free, some that cost money (including one where you can drive their M cars). Though I think they only send out invites to current owners or whoever is on their mailing list, anyone can just show up and sign up.

    IMO, it’s pretty good marketing because it’s so low pressure.

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