Opinion: Making Sense of the Stellantis Auto Show Decision

Tim Healey
by Tim Healey

News broke earlier this week that Stellantis would pull out of auto shows, including the upcoming Chicago Auto Show, for the foreseeable future.

Now, to be clear, that decision is only from the corporate side – local dealers could still participate. We reached out to the Chicago Auto Show folks about that, and have not yet heard back.

We should also note that Stellantis will evaluate whether to attend or not attend any given show on a case-by-case basis.

Having one of the Detroit Three pull out of auto shows leads to ringing of alarm bells. Even if it’s just a temporary move. Especially since it wasn’t that long ago that previous versions of what is now Stellantis were known for putting on elaborate press conferences during media days (especially in Detroit). Even within the past few years, Camp Jeep was a huge attraction at auto shows. Indeed, Camp Jeep will be at the New York Auto Show this spring.

That said, the situation is a bit more complicated than “Stellantis is saving money because it’s in trouble!” and/or “auto shows are dead if automakers don’t want to display there!” and/or “auto shows must cost too much if automakers are pulling out!” and/or “the industry is in trouble a major automaker won’t spend money at auto shows!”

Sadly, we as a society don’t do nuance well.

I think there may be a few factors at play here. There may be lasting effects from last year’s prolonged UAW strike. Stellantis is trying to play catchup with electric vehicles. Stellantis is planning to invest almost $5 billion in its Belvidere, Illinois plant. Most of the company’s brands have little to show right now.

That last one matters a lot, I think. There’s a new Ram truck, but we’re hearing the first drive won’t be in time for Chicago. Dodge’s newest product, the Hornet, launched in March 2023, and the next Charger/Charger Daytona isn’t ready for production yet. Chrysler sells just one model right now. Jeep refreshed the Gladiator and Wrangler but neither are full redesigns and Jeep also killed off two models – Cherokee and Renegade. There’s not much new going on, at least at this second, at Fiat and Alfa.

So why would the company drop millions on a display, plus the liability costs of Camp Jeep, when there’s just not a ton new? Why not pour that money into Belvidere, EVs, and the recovery from any strike-associated losses/increased labor costs?

As for the auto-show angle, I will once again point out that auto shows are for consumers, not media. That said, it’s obviously going to hurt the consumer days if Stellantis isn’t there – even if local dealers step up.

It sounds scary when a big automaker that has long been a major part of auto shows – and seemed to become an even bigger part of shows in recent years as smaller brands sat out – decides to stay home. And unlike Stellantis’ decision to stay out of LA last fall and CES next week, there’s no ongoing strike to use as excuse. It’s over. Though, as noted above, fallout from the strike could be at least partly beyond the decision.

But I am not yet convinced that this move means Stellantis/auto shows/the automotive industry is doomed. Not yet. If Stellantis isn’t back at shows, or spending money on some sort of alternative like the Roadkill Nights event where the Demon 170 was unveiled last year, by this time in 2025, then maybe we can worry.

The world is changing, and that may change how automakers present to the media and consumers at auto shows. Still, I don’t yet think we should freak out about Stellantis taking a break.

I could be wrong. Occupational hazard of writing an op-ed. This could be the canary in the coal mine for a company that has been bailed out twice in my lifetime and always seems to be less stable than Ford or GM. Then again, the investment in a plant 90 minutes from where I am typing this would suggest that starting a Stellantis death watch, at least right now, might be folly.

It’s very easy, especially with today’s discourse environment, to have a hot take about any major news event. Sometimes, that’s appropriate. This news, however, requires a wait-and-see approach.

[Image: Stellantis/Jeep]

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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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4 of 39 comments
  • El scotto El scotto on Jan 07, 2024

    I go to auto shows to well, actually sit in the vehicle. Crazy talk I know! I inwardly laugh at many on here who get into multi-response debates over a vehicle they've never sat in far less driven. P.S. The Venn diagram between trolling and never sat in or drove has a huge overlap.

    My local auto show is in Washington DC. One of the slick car magazines puts it on. It's usually one of the last shows so the staff is pretty relaxed. It's easier to take the Metro and yes, you will pay 20$ for a cheeseburger.

    The auto show is held mid January. Lemme see it's cold out, no new movies since Christmas, yeah let's go to the auto show. I did have to wait my turn one year to drive a Fiat 500 Abart I was tempted but didn't buy. Jeep used to have an indoor obstacle course. Two college-aged auto show female employees drove the Jeep. GF's 15-yo son went twice

    • Lou_BC Lou_BC on Jan 08, 2024

      The car dealers in my town used to host an annual summer mega-sale. It wasn't a car show but functioned like one. You got to sit in various vehicles all in one place. It was a fun way to spend an afternoon.

      They stopped doing it pre-COVID. Most likely because all of the dealerships have been bought out by 3 big chains (2 chains had the same CEO).

  • IH_Fever IH_Fever on Jan 08, 2024

    In a market that is mainly CUV's, pickups, and a few battery powered blobs, why spend any money to go to a show? Once you've seen one, you've seen them all. The one in Houston had such little product the last couple of years they've combined it with the boat show.

    • Jeff Jeff on Jan 08, 2024

      That is interesting that the Houston Auto Show is combined with the boat show. I do see the connection in that if you buy a bigger boat you might need to buy a newer bigger truck.

  • SCE to AUX Re-reading the headline... it's just a patent, with no guarantee of production. I guess Stellantis didn't want to be left behind by Ford. 🙄Some engineers earned a bonus from this, though.
  • 1995_SC Well this seems silly
  • Dale Houston Huh. I like the smoothness and relative quiet of our EV. I'm not sure why anyone would want this.
  • Paul Reminds me of a time long ago where in the back of some publications there were ads for cassette tapes with the sound of a car 'peeling out' that could play when exiting a parking lot in your anemic daily driver.
  • El scotto This Is Why Tesla's Stainless Steel Cybertrucks May Be Rusting | WIREDProprietary stainless steel and for another 5K you can buy a clear coat wrap. It should have rolled out of the factory with a clear coat.