(This story has been updated.)
Officials with the North American International Auto Show have confirmed that Mercedes-Benz won’t be on hand when the even returns in January 2019, the latest on a growing list of manufacturers who have decided to pull out of the Detroit show.
The news comes as more and more automakers rethink their commitment to both media previews and public says at events like the NAIAS. As TheDetroitBureau.com recently reported, industry planners are looking at alternatives that can more directly target potential buyers while also holding down costs. At shows like the NAIAS it can cost as much as $5 million to stage a 20-minute media preview – even more if the event involves the creation of a one-of-a-kind concept vehicle.
“At this time Mercedes-Benz AG will not be exhibiting at the upcoming 2019 North American International Auto Show,” said the German marque in a statement. “Our time in Detroit over the years has been very beneficial for our brand, especially coming off of the world debut of the iconic G-Class. Discussions are underway for future show participation.”
Separately, a senior executive confirmed Mercedes could be back in Detroit in January 2020.
“We have been made aware of Mercedes-Benz AG’s decision to not display at the 2019 NAIAS,” show organizers said in a statement. We have enjoyed a longstanding partnership with Mercedes that has included very memorable press events and product launches. We are actively discussing future opportunities with them.”
The German automaker has traditionally had a major presence at the NAIAS, often staging an off-site preview over the weekend and then a more traditional event during the official media preview. This past January, the Daimler AG luxury brand focused on its new G-Class SUV, even bringing in actor and former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to help CEO Dieter Zetsche show off the big utility vehicle at an old Detroit movie theater now serving as a parking structure.
(For a complete round-up of 2018 NAIAS debuts, Click Here.)
Unless Mercedes reverses its decision it will join a growing list of manufacturers who have pulled out of the NAIAS. This past year that included Jaguar, Land Rover, Mazda, Porsche and Volvo. Some manufacturers that had previously abandoned the show did return, however, including Nissan which had pulled out of the show earlier in the decade before coming back to Detroit’s Cobo Hall two years ago.
A handful of luxury brands, such as Rolls-Royce, had also left the NAIAS, though Rolls came back when organizers added a special event, dubbed the Gallery, specifically focusing on high-line marques. That event was limited to invite-only guests and did not run during the general public days at the Detroit show.
“It’s time for auto shows to make an adjustment,” Rod Alberts, the president of the Detroit Auto Dealers Association, which stages the NAIAS, told TheDetroitBureau.com last month. Alberts declined to comment about the Mercedes announcement, but other sources said the DADA is hoping to get the German maker to re-think its decision, or at least commit to returning in 2020.
(Jim Belushi helps Ford reveal new Transit Conect mini…er…wagon in Chicago. Click Here for the story.)
Since it changed its name to the North American International Auto Show two decades ago, the Detroit show has been the biggest event in the country from a media perspective. But it saw barely half as many new models introduced this past January compared to prior years when there were as many as 70 debuts.
“The difference between fifteen years ago and today is that auto shows are no longer the only method by which to reach your audience,” Dave Reuter, Vice President of Global Communications Operations for Nissan Motor Co., told TheDetroitBureau.com last month.
“Auto shows will remain one component of our communications campaigns,” Reuter said, but he added that, “As competition increases and new opportunities to attract attention arise,” Nissan is looking at alternatives, “such as social, digital and direct-to-user platforms.”
Detroit is by no means the only show impacted by this shift in thinking. Chicago’s own press preview last week essentially lasted less than a full day. North America’s two other media-oriented car shows – in Los Angeles and New York City – have also struggled to keep their preview calendars full.
Detroit faces a peculiar challenge in that it follows the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. With the auto industry’s growing use of electronics, CES has positioned itself as a showcase for autonomous vehicle, connected car and electrified vehicle technologies. Mercedes, Honda and Toyota were among the automakers staging media previews at the show this year.
Detroit auto show organizers pushed their event back a week this year to avoid squatting on top of CES, but that created a separate challenge: several manufacturers, including General Motors, declined to participate in the primary media preview day which took place on Martin Luther King’s birthday, a national holiday. The NAIAS media preview is scheduled to overlap King’s birthday holiday again next year – though the holiday won’t be celebrated until the following Monday.
For several years, the NAIAS has attempted to “adjust” itself by adding new features and events, such as The Gallery. That includes Automobili-D, an overlapping tech conference to challenge CES. In January 2017, Google spin-off Waymo came to Detroit to debut the driverless car it was developing based on a Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivan. And the auto show’s statement that “tech companies have hinted at some big product news earmarked for Detroit in the upcoming year.”
While media previews have been especially hard hit by automakers’ changing strategies, public days continue to draw larger crowds – over 700,000 in Detroit this year, with Chicago expected to come closer to 1 million potential buyers when it wraps up later this month.
But even then, manufacturers are questioning whether the shows are a good investment. Jaguar offered what could be a glimpse of the future when, last summer, it staged a “Performance Tour” that hopped from city to city as a sort of one-brand car show. It more precisely targeted prospective customers and offered them the advantage of being able to take the carmaker’s products out for test drives.
While few experts see car shows going away any time soon, most agree with Detroit Auto Dealers chief Alberts that events like the NAIAS will have to revise their strategies to remain relevant for manufacturers and consumers alike.
(VW Arteon makes its debut in Chicago. Click Here for the story.)