This story has been updated with additional information.
The 2020 North American International Auto Show, which was supposed to take place in June for the first time has, instead, been canceled due to the worsening coronavirus crisis.
Detroit has been one of the cities hardest hit by COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, with 1,381 identified victims as of midday Saturday and 31 deaths. Across Michigan, the total had reached 4,650 cases and 111 deaths. With local hospitals running short of both medical gear and space, TCF Center, the Motor City’s convention facility, has been reserved for six months by the Federal Emergency Management Administration, as it will be converted into a field hospital to help relieve pressure on the Detroit area’s other hospitals.
“The health and welfare of the citizens of Detroit and Michigan is paramount,” said Rod Alberts, the executive director of the Detroit Auto Dealers Association, which sponsors the annual show, in a statement.
“TCF Center is the ideal location for this important function at this critical and unprecedented time,” Alberts told auto show sponsors in an e-mail.
“With the more than 100 convention centers and facilities around the country being considered to potentially serve as temporary hospitals, it became clear to us that TCF Center would be an inevitable option to serve as a care facility to satisfy our community’s urgent health needs,” he said.
“One of the hallmarks of NAIAS since the very beginning has been our commitment to being socially responsible,” Alberts said. “Our thoughts continue to be with those whose lives have been impacted by this devastating virus. And, we support the city and state’s mission to help preserve life in the face of this challenging situation.”
The North American International Auto Show, or NAIAS, is the latest in a growing list of auto shows canceled or postponed since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. That includes the Geneva International Motor Show that was to have been held at the beginning of March.
Organizers still hope to stage the New York International Auto Show later this year. It was to have taken place next month. But whether that can happen is uncertain. Like Detroit’s TCF Center, New York’s Jacob Javits Convention Center is being transformed into an emergency hospital to handle the overflow of COVID-19 patients.
NAIAS has traditionally been one of the world’s most important auto shows, typically bringing to its two-day media preview the introduction of dozens of new cars, trucks and crossovers. As with other auto shows, industry support had been waning in recent years, and NAIAS also facing the challenge of having some previews shifted from the Motor City to the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
That led organizers to shift from the show’s traditional January schedule to June. They had been hoping to revitalize NAIAS this year, among other things, by tying into other spring events in Motown and by utilizing outdoor space alongside TCF Center which sits along the Detroit Riverfront.
At this point, those plans will have to be put on hold until June 2021. The show also raises millions for Detroit-area charities annually and show organizers are looking for ways to help this year. NAIAS Chairman Doug North said show officials are also discussing plans for a fundraising activity later this year to benefit the children’s charities that were designated as beneficiaries of the 2020 Charity Preview event.
“We know these organizations rely on the money raised at Charity Preview to fund many wonderful support services for the most vulnerable in our community,” North said. “With this in mind, we will be in touch with the charities in the near future to present some ideas.”
Other events scheduled to take place at the Detroit convention center – formerly known as Cobo Hall – likely also will need to be canceled, delayed or moved. Following President Donald Trump’s decision to enact a disaster declaration for the state of Michigan, TCF Center will now be used by the Federal Emergency Management Administration as a hospital dedicated to treating coronavirus patients for at least the next six months.
Michigan, as a whole, has seen a rapid escalation of COVID-19 cases in recent days. It now has nearly three times as many as the neighboring Canadian province of Ontario with only about 70% of the population.
“At this time, the trajectory of Detroit is unfortunately even more steep than that of New York,” Dr. Teena Chopra, the medical director of infection prevention and hospital epidemiology at the Detroit Medical Center said Saturday.
The pandemic has impacted the auto industry in a number of ways. As of last week, virtually every manufacturer in North America had shut down both white-collar and manufacturing operations. While several, including Ford and Toyota, hope to have workers back on the job by around mid-April, a number of senior industry insiders have told TheDetroitBureau.com that it is looking increasingly unlikely they will be able to meet that schedule.
Meanwhile, auto sales have collapsed. Despite a strong start, J.D. Power, LMC Automotive and other analysts expect demand will have tumbled by at least 40% for March overall, with April numbers looking likely to be down a minimum 50% compared to year-ago levels. That would mean sales levels even worse than what were seen during the depths of the Great Recession.