By on March 11, 2020

The virus that’s on everyone’s lips is having an incredible economic impact throughout the world. Auto shows have thus far been disrupted by the virus outbreak, too, and I’ve begun wondering: At the end of the day, do they actually matter?

As we’ve previously reported on several occasions, manufacturers are set to lose billions of dollars due to COVID-19. People in quarantine don’t head out to their local dealer to buy a new ride. And factories which build cars can’t keep busy if the supply chain is unable to provide parts. So factories become idled. Since people really shouldn’t be gathering in large numbers during an outbreak, auto shows that get the product out in front of the media and consumers are being delayed or cancelled. First to fall was the Geneva show, cancelled at the last minute a couple of weeks ago. The New York International Auto Show (NYIAS) was delayed just yesterday afternoon. It’ll now take place in August, after the newly-retimed North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit.

But in the end, do the cancellations and delays make a difference in the grand scheme of cars?

In the past, auto shows were a great way to reveal new product and get across information about a brand’s offerings. Here in 2020, new product reveals are often spoiled by leaks, as Ford learned this week with both its upcoming Bronco-badged SUVs. Everybody’s got their own camera and computer in their pocket; they’ve seen the reveal before it happens.

To that point, the necessity of information distribution to the free-shrimp-loving media and buy-your-own public has waned as well. Any consumer can go to an OEM’s website or one of 4,300 car information sites to glean free, detailed information on any model they choose; no need to visit a crowded convention hall and pay for less complete information.

The only benefits still remaining from auto shows are lead generation for dealers, and physical product time for consumers. The former is assuredly much more important than the latter. I think the modern take on an auto show should be the digital-only format approach designated as Plan B by the organizers of the Geneva show. Journalists will be angry when OEMs take away their free booze and trips to the show, but they’ll cover all the new product anyway. And now journalists will use the superior pictures provided by the press kit, instead of their hastily snapped images from between visits to the open bar. Dealers will adjust, and to secure leads might improve the terrible sales tactics and garbage websites they foist upon consumers. OEMs save a lot of money — it’s a win-win.

I think that, in the end, the death of physical auto shows would be a forgettable and seldom-missed blip on the radar. What say you?

[Image: NAIAS]

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20 Comments on “QOTD: A Show-stopping Virus to Prove Pointlessness?...”

  • avatar

    I suppose we could do away with the Superbowl as well. Have the two teams play in an empty stadium with a digitally inserted crowd and half-time. Auto shows create excitement for new product. When I was a kid going to the Chicago auto show was the highlight of my year and the basis of my love of cars.

    I understand skipping this year, but they should be back next year bigger and better loaded with innovation and new introductions, otherwise new cars will be about as exciting as the latest toaster

  • avatar

    We lament daily about how much time we spend in our screens. We talk about how our youth are lacking in “real experiences” and “personal interaction”. I’m only 36, but I fondly remember the family trips to the NAIAS. I remember seeing the Ford GT concept and the Dodge Challenger concept. Of coming home with a bag full of literature that got stuffed in a drawer, but will be found later and a fond memory will be revived. One of my coworkers gave me a bag they found from a car show in 1970. It was great fun to see all the “pedestrian” car literature, a trip back in time. When I bought our new Tiguan, the dealer didn’t even have any literature to provide, “digital only”.

    The show must go on!

    • 0 avatar

      I still have literature collected from auto shows of the 1960s. I would pour over those brochures all year until the next auto show. A bag of auto stuff was as good as a Halloween bag of candy

      • 0 avatar

        I got in a bad habit of picking up two, or four copies of brochures. I had tons of early to mid ’70s stuff in a footlocker I got for Christmas as a kid, and lost it when I split with my first wife. I got one pickup truck load of my stuff, then never made it back to our house to get the footlocker, and a very heavy coffee table. I do have a fair collection of ’60s stuff that was stored separately, like brochures of late ’60s Ford and Pontiac performance cars, and some stuff my dad had picked up at auto shows in the early ’60s.

    • 0 avatar

      100% agree. I remember every year going to the Philadelphia Auto Show – not as big as New York or Detroit, but big enough to get some exposure and a lot of concepts. I recall being 14 years old and sitting in a pre-production Gen 1 Viper and thinking it was the coolest car ever. Shiny new Lamborghinis and Ferraris in the flesh. Walking through the rows and rows (and wings) full of brand new cars and that cemented my love of all things cars.
      You don’t get that on a phone screen, and no short video clip on YouTube can take away the impact of seeing, feeling, and sitting in all of these new cars, without pressure to buy, without pushy sales people, and you can just enjoy yourself, especially if you pick a non-peak time to visit.
      I know car shows are expensive for both the manufacturers and the visitors, and everyone’s scared about coronavirus and human contact, but as a whole, keep the car shows. As long as America loves their cars and trucks, we’ll always love looking at what we want to drive next.

  • avatar

    Car shows are fantastic and it seems every year they get busier.

    It’s a good indicator of consumer trends in the auto world, usually my hunches are pretty well in line with what I see.

  • avatar

    I think it’d be a shame if auto shows I remember from years past went away. But those shows generated real excitement – there were concept cars, the latest sport models, hot presenters, and on and on.

    Today, some of the most interesting manufacturers (like Mercedes) don’t even show up, there are very few concepts, and the cars on display are a bunch of anodyne, blobby crossovers that I have zero interest in. The most interesting stuff these days tends to be trucks, and I’m not really interested in those, either.

    So…would it be a shame that the auto show of old dies? Absolutely. But I agree with Corey – the one that exists today could probably die and I wouldn’t miss it all that much.

    • 0 avatar

      IMO the big, flashy auto shows will probably end and go back to what they used to be, regional dealers putting together their own shows with cars from their own inventory, and be there to drum up actual business.

      these big shows are *expensive* for everyone participating, and there’s not always a clear link to sales afterward.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    I like the auto show so I can get touch time with a car without sales pressure.

    But in the end, it will come down whether auto shows are actually good for the bottom line. I doubt it.

  • avatar

    I still enjoy going to autoshows, though the Minneapolis/St. Paul show never gets the debuting cars, our market just isn’t big enough.

    I have a goofy habit of figuring out where certain cars are built based on VIN and seeing just what the size difference means IRL. For example last year I sat in a Toyota Yaris iA (Mazda2) and didn’t detect an appreciable difference. Sometimes it’s fun to distill the options available since I have a small list of would like to haves (AC, sunroof, heated seats) and don’t really pay much attention to the suites of safety kit.

  • avatar

    I personally love the auto show. But it has become a mob of craziness recently, with parents bringing their entire family along for a casual outing (along with their teenagers and their friends). The parents go to the beer tent and the kids proceed to jump in and on just about every car on the show floor. Jeep always had a cool mountain track set up with Wranglers for off-road demonstrations. At the last show, the line was 90 minutes long, and 95% of the line were teens and kids who couldnt afford a new Jeep – much less have a license. It certainly helps with brand awareness, so maybe there is some value in that. But the show doesn’t do anything to help potential buyers anymore.

  • avatar

    I too fondly remember going to the Car Show all through the 1960’s (you had to be there to grasp what the Mustang meant in 1964) but the last auto show I went to was the one where Chevy introduced it’s then new, smaller “Colorado” pickup and they only had two and the one with opening doors was behind a counter with NO ONE THERE to talk about it so naturally I simply walked around the counter and opened the door to see up close, it was, I thought, right sized but they only had two crew cabs and _zero_ literature so I lost interest .

    I miss going though .


  • avatar

    I always love the car show because you get to see everything right next to each other. It is really interesting to see what relative value you get at a given price point, which varies a LOT be it $20k or $80k. It is a lot more informative than going dealer to dealer….to see them ALL in one place. I recall seeing an early Accord after the GM exhibit and wishing I could afford to buy a dealer franchise…the only other car at the time which had equal build quality was Mercedes….

  • avatar
    R Henry

    Auto Shows are simply a marketing tool. Does marketing matter? To ask the question is to know the answer. Of course!

  • avatar

    The auto show is usually the first time carmakers have a chance to interact and gauge interest directly from the buying public. You would think they would make more of the opportunity by talking with them, gauging interest in new products in the pipeline, etc.

    Last time I was there, I was surprised by how good some of the cars were that I was not expecting. Especially Buick of all things.

  • avatar

    I have only been to one car show and loved it. There is a big difference between reading stats and looking at pictures, and seeing and sitting in the cars up close.
    I remember seeing the Jaguar F-Type in person for the first time. In pictures I thought it was slightly out of proportion but up close and walking around it I was blown away by how beautiful it was.
    The only thing I would like different would be no kids up to a certain age. It makes checking out some of the cars a bit of a pain when absentee parents aren’t monitoring how much time their kids spend in them while enthusiasts wait in line patiently…

  • avatar

    I’ve only been to our regional car show, which is a dealer affair. But still, it is nice to actually see the cars closeup, sit in them, and begin dreaming.

    The last show I went to I noticed that everyone was sports car crazy – even the dated Dodge Challenger had lines of people waiting to sit inside. Complete opposite of reality… ie people still dream of low slung muscle/sports car but the reality appears to be CUV or truck.

  • avatar

    Mrs. F and I went to the Providence (RI) show last month, and walked away with a new pocket flashlight from the Hyundai booth (in exchange for my email address) and an idea of what we will buy when these new cars come off their three-leases.

    New car prices are just intimidating, regardless of the discounts, and they stifle any desire for conversation with the dealers / reps.

    So we shall continue to drive our well-maintained 2005 cars until….(?)

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