Bark's Bites: What If They Held an Auto Show and Nobody Came?

Mark "Bark M." Baruth
by Mark "Bark M." Baruth

For those of you who haven’t been to the press days of one of the major American auto shows (Detroit, New York, Chicago, LA), I’ll briefly describe what they are like: many, many parties, a lot of free alcohol, and very little to do with cars. I mean, yeah, there are some cars present, but nobody really looks at them or talks about them. All the press materials are sent in advance so that websites (like this one) can publish their stories en masse as soon as whatever artificial embargo is in place expires. The cars don’t really even need to be there. I enjoy going to the New York International Auto Show for one reason — it’s in New York. If you put it in Peoria, Bark ain’t going.

Local auto shows, however, serve a completely different purpose. The idea of the local auto show in your town is that it allows you to see all of the cars you might be considering for purchase in one place. Or, if you’re a car geek, you can just go look at all of the stuff that you normally would have to have a lot more money to be allowed to look at in person. When I was growing up in Columbus, Ohio, I eagerly anticipated the auto show every year. I remember my dad begrudgingly taking me to the show, just so I could walk around Veterans Memorial Auditorium and see things like the Chevrolet Citation Coupe Concept and maybe even sit in a Trans Am for a few seconds before the Pontiac booth guy kicked me out.

So it was with that same sense of excitement that I went to the Miami International Auto Show last week. It was the first time in over a decade that I had the chance to go to a car show as a member of the general public — no name badge around my neck, no glad-handing PR reps, no hordes of automotive “journalists” obstructing my view of the cars with their ridiculous camera rigs. It was going to be an opportunity to see cars, man.

An hour later, I left the massive Miami Beach Convention Center feeling more sad than anything else. The local car show, as I knew it, appears to be dead.

The Miami market is one of the most important and prolific car-buying markets in the country. Yes, of course you’ll find the nation’s biggest Lamborghini and Ferrari dealers here, as well as huge BMW and Mercedes stores, but you’ll also find some of the nation’s largest Chevrolet, Toyota, Nissan, and Lincoln dealers here, too. It’s a massive metroplex with incredibly poor public transportation, so everybody drives. In other words, cars are a necessary, vital part of Miami life.

You would never have known it based on the activity on the show floor. As I entered the center, there was almost nobody in sight. This wasn’t Tuesday morning, either — it was Thursday night around 6:00 p.m. The attendants guarding the door to the hall seemed almost surprised to see me when I handed them my ticket.

“Uh, you can just go in,” he said to me. Okay, then.

I entered the massive hall right by the Ford display, which is always one of the more crowded areas of any major auto show. Not this one. Total crickets, even by the new Ranger. There was an off-road driving simulator with a couple of attendants manning the booth. They had nobody to talk to, and nobody in line to experience the simulator, so I thought I’d give it a whirl. The two young ladies were so happy to have somebody to talk to that they sprung to life and answered all of my questions about the show.

“It’s been like this all week,” one of them mentioned. “I’ll be happy to be done with this show. But they’re all kind of like this now. Thank God this show is only one week — I keep getting stuck working the two week shows. They’re even worse.”

She had been in Minneapolis, Milwaukee, and other shows all around the country. Same story. Big halls, lots of cars, and no attendees.

It was a similar story with all of the floor workers with whom I spoke. They were all so thrilled to have somebody to talk to that I didn’t mind hearing the product pitches for all of the cars in their respective areas. I learned a thing or two, and it gave them a reward for standing on their feet for hours and hours at a time.

Even my companion for the show, the lovely Luisa, found the experience a bit depressing. “There’s nobody here,” she exclaimed. As you can see in the above photo, Lu was the only person in the entire Chevrolet booth as she checked out the Bolt. Not even the Blazer, which was just introduced last week, had any admirers. When Lu bought a beef empanada from one of the vendors in the hall, she ended up throwing it out after one bite.

“It’s stale,” she complained to the vendor.

“Sorry,” he said. “We haven’t been selling anything this week. It’s probably not very fresh.”

The void in the hall did give me the chance to spend a little bit of floor time with some cars I hadn’t seen much of, like the Lincoln Nautilus at the top of this post (even though the doors were locked), and the Genesis G70 directly above these words (it’s beautiful, but the back seat is almost useless). For that, I was grateful. Anybody who genuinely wanted to check out some cars would have enjoyed this show, even with the rather loud presentations that were occurring as scheduled every 30 minutes, despite the complete lack of audience.

I walked over to the Toyota booth to catch the tail end of the rep preaching about the ALL-NEW TOP-SELLING 2019 RAV4 with great enthusiasm. He had been speaking loudly and proudly about the features of the CUV, despite the fact that there was literally not one person in the Toyota area. Not one. When Luisa and I walked into his line of sight, I think his voice actually cracked with excitement. A real person! TWO real persons!

So why are the car shows so dead? Why did BMW, Lamborghini, Ferrari, and Mercedes, all of whom are spending massive cash advertising through digital and traditional media in the Miami market, decide to forgo exhibiting at the show entirely?

It is sooooo cliche to say so in the year 2018, but the answer is probably The Internet. YouTube car channels are exploding — any idiot with a camera can (and often does) get thousands of views by walking around a press loaner and talking really loudly and with great excitement! There’s an entire generation of people who are happy to experience things virtually via video rather than touch, smell, and feel them in person. Why fight the traffic, pay for parking, and walk two blocks to a giant convention center when you can watch a video about the new “ She’s got a booty like a Cadillac” XT4 right on your phone?

But while the local car show does still exist, for however long it exists, you should take the opportunity to visit your local show when it comes to town. You’ll get more attention from a product specialist than you could ever possibly need, the chance to sit in the driver’s chair and explore the interior completely uninterrupted, and, perhaps most importantly, you can check out things like panel gaps, material quality, and experience things live and in person that just don’t translate to video.

Just don’t buy the empanadas. Trust me on this one.

[Images: Mark “Bark M.” Baruth]

Mark "Bark M." Baruth
Mark "Bark M." Baruth

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2 of 63 comments
  • Hifi Hifi on Nov 27, 2018

    Why bother? I stopped going to the NYIAS a few years ago once I realized they've gotten stale. There's rarely anything new that's worth seeing. Automakers just keep making the same stuff they've always been making. Toyotas are still ugly, Jeeps still look like jeeps. Chevy and Ford still focus on rednecks. And Cadillac and Lincoln still don't know anything about luxury. The detailing is bad...the plastic is excessive... and ideas are lacking. I'll go once the Tesla roadster or Model Y is launched. But I'll probably have seen them in the showroom. So no.

  • MiataReallyIsTheAnswer MiataReallyIsTheAnswer on Feb 26, 2020

    I still go, and I go on a thursday during the daytime to avoid the crowds (and there ARE crowds on the weekends).

  • Kwik_Shift_Pro4X I'll gladly support the least "woke" and the most Japanese auto company out there.
  • Jmo2 I just got an email from the dealership where I bought my car and it looks like everything has $5k on the hood.
  • Lou_BC I suspect that since the global pandemic, dealerships have preferred to stay with the "if you want it, we will order it" business model. They just need some demo models on hand and some shiny bits to catch the impulse buyer. Profits are higher and risks lower this way.
  • Probert When I hear the word "patriot", I think of entitled hateful whining ignorant traitors to democracy. But hey , meant to say "Pass the salt."
  • Lou_BC A brand or inanimate object isn't patriotic. A person can buy said object based upon patriotism. I'd prefer to buy local or domestic. Is supporting one's fellow countrymen patriotic or logical? I'd rather buy from an allie than a foe. Is that patriotic or logical?