2023 New York Auto Show Recap: Are We Back?

Tim Healey
by Tim Healey

For better or worse, a lot of people in this business on all sides (journalist, analyst, PR, pundit) tend to use any given auto show's press conference schedule, along with the type of debuts that occur/news that is made, as a metric for the health of the industry.

I am not sure about the wisdom of this -- I am on record as saying that auto shows are for the public, not the media. A media-day schedule might be light because automakers are doing off-site debuts in the same city the night before. Or because the product cycle hits a certain way during that year's show. Not to mention that any one show isn't representative of the entire year.

Yes, it would be great -- though exhausting -- if the media day was chock-full of debuts and there was a second day that was almost as busy.

But times change, and just because automakers aren't buying a bunch of expensive press conference slots at the conference center, it doesn't mean the industry is hurting. The best metrics to understand industry health involve sales numbers, time on the lot, production numbers, and so on.

Some will suggest the public days are a measure of industry health -- that if a lot of people are paying to attend the show, that's a good sign. Sure, maybe, but some folks go just to gawk at cars or have something unique to do -- they aren't buying anything anytime soon.

That long preamble is basically a big caveat to this recap -- while I will use the show as a bit of a barometer to get a sense of where the industry is at, I will not overstate its importance, nor should you. In other words, the state of the NYIAS media day does matter, but other metrics matter much more. Keep that in mind.

When the press conference schedule dropped, I was a bit concerned. The day's newsmaking would be over by noon! Not to mention that at least two of the unveils we expected to see would be trim levels, not major redesigns or refreshes.

Yet we ended up with big news from Ram, Jeep, Genesis, and Hyundai. That may be less news than in years past, but it's not bad, either. And let's remember that while the world looks like the pandemic is over -- few folks are masking, everything is open -- the after-effects of it on supply chains and vehicle production are likely still being felt.

This is anecdotal, and I need to dig into the data more to see if my interpretation is correct, but I get the sense from conversations I have that normalcy has not yet returned to the OEMs, though one can see it from here.

I know vibes and anecdotes aren't data, so I always tread carefully here -- I don't want to get it wrong, and I certainly don't want to misinform you. But I do pay attention to the buzz at any given show, and the conversations I have with those in the know help me get a sense of what's actually happening, though, again, I don't take it as the gospel truth.

And to be sure, the buzz was a bit mixed -- some folks were pessimistic, some went the other way. Accounting for any one person's predispositions -- some are just optimists or pessimists by nature -- and for the fact that some old-school folks are just not adapting to the times and missing the old ways of how auto shows functioned, I got the sense that there's a tentative but fragile movement towards a return to the 2019 world.

Again, auto-show media days aren't going back to what they once were, and that was the case before Covid. Automakers seem to prefer the off-sites because they can dominate the news cycle and not pay the price for a press conference at a convention center. Media days will likely forever be a shell of what they were a decade ago.

So keeping in mind that a press-conference schedule isn't the strongest indicator of industry health, I still walked away from NY with more optimism than I had when I landed at LaGuardia on Tuesday.

That could just be because we're getting a significantly updated Wrangler, and that's obviously one of the most popular nameplates out there. It could be because Ram made impressive promises with the Rev, though I suspect some of those numbers will come down a bit in real-world situations. Maybe it's because Genesis keeps showing that it really isn't that hard to design sexy luxury vehicles -- though it is worrisome that more established import luxury brands are still flailing.

I still have concerns about this industry. Average transaction prices are insane and too many people can't afford a new car or are paying way too much per month for too many months to own something. I still wonder if Buick and Mitsubishi can hang in there, and at least one journo told me he worries about Mazda's survival. I still wonder when Nissan and Infiniti will get back on track. And I wonder why Subaru has followed the Pontiac method of body-cladding the hell out of everything.

That said, there was enough happening in New York that I felt like it was worth the trip, and that's something. Auto-show media days may be losing steam in terms of debuts, but at least there are still cars that will be debuting somewhere. This is a complicated industry that always seems to be facing some sort of trouble or another, but there are some notes of optimism in the air.

[Image © 2023 Tim Healey/TTAC]

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Tim Healey
Tim Healey

Tim Healey grew up around the auto-parts business and has always had a love for cars — his parents joke his first word was “‘Vette”. Despite this, he wanted to pursue a career in sports writing but he ended up falling semi-accidentally into the automotive-journalism industry, first at Consumer Guide Automotive and later at Web2Carz.com. He also worked as an industry analyst at Mintel Group and freelanced for About.com, CarFax, Vehix.com, High Gear Media, Torque News, FutureCar.com, Cars.com, among others, and of course Vertical Scope sites such as AutoGuide.com, Off-Road.com, and HybridCars.com. He’s an urbanite and as such, doesn’t need a daily driver, but if he had one, it would be compact, sporty, and have a manual transmission.

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2 of 6 comments
  • Kwik_Shift_Pro4X Kwik_Shift_Pro4X on Apr 07, 2023

    Purposely short changing supply to keep prices high is a major turn-off

  • IBx1 IBx1 on Apr 10, 2023

    The only things I saw debut at this show were a weird grille insert for the Wrangler and a bunch of cars from South Korea, although they have finally figured out how to draw cars so I'm not complaining.

    That's essentially the biggest auto show.

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