The hot ticket in Miami Beach this week wasn’t a room at the red-hot Faena Hotel or a reservation at the uber-hip Papi Steak. For automakers, it was appearing at Art Basel, the modern art show that draws artists, galleries and more than 81,000 art lovers from five continents to the Miami Convention Center and its environs each year around this time
It was here this week that Lamborghini CEO Stephan Winkelmann converged a dealer meeting and spoke with journalists. BMW revealed the Concept XM, the first “electrified” M model, with a plug-in hybrid V-8 driveline delivering 750 horsepower and 737 pound-feet of instant-on torque while providing at least 30 miles of all-electric range.
Lincoln was there as well, with the brand’s design director, Kemal Curic, in town to chat about just that — design. Mercedes-Benz showcased its Mercedes-Maybach at Miami’s Rubell Museum.
Lexus is no stranger to the show, with its large sponsor exhibit at Design Miami, Art Basel’s sister show. And other automakers are quietly scoping out the show, deciding whether its quirky approach to contemporary art fits with their brand’s product image.
But the question remains why an automaker would want to take part in a show best known for “Comedian” by Maurizio Cattelan, an art installation of a banana held to a wall with gray duct tape. The piece was sold three times in 2019, at prices ranging from $120,000 to $150,000. That was before a New York City-based performance artist, David Datuna, pulled the banana off the wall and ate it.
“I really love this installation,” Datuna said at the time. “It’s very delicious.”
Here? Now? Why?
Given the inanity of the situation, and the brilliance of pawning off a cheap piece of fruit as art for six figures, one has to wonder why automakers are scrambling to be a part of this show.
“OEMs are desperate to look for the next viral event to attend,” said Sam Fiorani, vice president, Global Vehicle Forecasting at AutoForecast Solutions. “They’re looking for another outlet for their product to get in front of new buyers, and potentially buyers who could make the product go viral.”
Fiorani, says such events are better than car shows for automakers.
“Everybody there is looking for a car. If you go to some event where you’re not looking for a car, you make bigger news than somebody just attending a car show.”
Not just Art Basel
In the past few years, automakers have increasingly turned to numerous lifestyle events, even if they’re old car shows, to stand apart and capture consumers’ attention. It’s about catching your audience off guard.
And while other events, such as the Consumer Electronics Show, or CES, attracts car manufacturers, that show provides automakers a far different stage than the one offered by Art Basel.
“CES has become the place where they show off their technology. It’s the place where investors care if you show up. At a car show, investors just don’t care; you’re just another legacy car company, which is even worse. If you show up at CES, you become a tech company.”
So even if the thought of shelling out six figures for a piece of tropical fruit seems absurd, the Miami event is carving out a growing niche for the world’s automakers.
“Art Basel is actually a different tact from being at a car show or say even being at CES. It’s about being the next viral thing,” he said.
For automakers, that’s the show’s big appeal.