Long one of the world’s biggest and most closely followed automotive events, the North American International Auto Show returns to Detroit this week after a three-and-a-half-year absence — but it will take on a very different look, with a decidedly downsized media presence.
Where anywhere from 50 to 70 new vehicles routinely made their debut in year’s past, this year’s NAIAS will see just five brands reveal no more than 10 new models when the show opens. That said, there will be at least one major product unveiling: the seventh-generation Ford Mustang.
While there won’t be as much for journalists to cover, show organizers promise there’ll be lots more for the public to do, the show expanding beyond the walls of the convention center and featuring everything from a monster truck demonstration to a dinosaur exhibit. It will even boast the world’s largest “rubber” duckie, at nearly 15 tons and 61 feet in height.
Auto shows face a challenging future
The Detroit show had to adopt to a very different, post-COVID environment, said John McElroy, host and producer of automotive TV show Autoline, and a longtime NAIAS attendee. And, he added, “All auto shows are going through the same thing.”
Indeed, what happens when the Detroit show opens will be closely scrutinized to see if it can avoid the fate of some other automotive gatherings.
The Frankfurt Motor Show ended its long run in 2019, the victim of declining public attendance and dwindling interest by manufacturers. And Geneva Motor Show organizers have canceled plans for the event to return next winter after a four-year hiatus.
Some observers fear the end could be near for the once-huge Paris Motor Show scheduled to return run this autumn. The Tokyo Motor Show has shrunk so much it abandoned its longtime home in the suburbs for a small facility within the city itself. And the Chicago Auto Show was barely half its pre-pandemic size this past February.
Even before the pandemic struck, auto shows were facing challenges. Manufacturers began to question the seven-figure cost of setting up displays and staging news conferences. And they’ve been using alternatives like the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance and the Texas State Fair, while also turning to the Internet to stage virtual previews.
Changing the game plan
Ford, however, wants to take advantage of the new layout of the Detroit show.
Well before COVID, organizers were looking for a new approach and recognized the limitations of holding the event in frigid January. After exploring several options, they settled on a plan that would have the show push back until June 2020 to make use of the space adjoining what was long known as Cobo Hall. That included the big Hart Plaza, as well as the Detroit Riverfront. After repeated pandemic delays, they settled on the current September schedule.
Ford has kept the 2022 NAIAS in the spotlight, no surprise considering the huge Mustang fan base. The show will see the launch of the seventh-generation pony car and there’s been a lot of speculation about what’s in store. So far, the automaker isn’t saying much. But it’s set to ensure a big audience, even if media attendance will be down. (Only about 1,000 journalists have registered this year, off from a pre-pandemic norm of up to 5,000.)
The Mustang Stampede
Mustang fans are set to drive in from across the country to attend. They’ll be invited to gather at Ford’s headquarters in the suburb of Dearborn, then drive to downtown Detroit as part of what the automaker is calling the “Mustang Stampede.”
Ford won’t be alone among manufacturers, even if the manufacturer presence is down sharply from NAIAS’s heyday. Five automakers will stage previews this year. That includes Ford’s sibling Lincoln brand — which will reveal the update Corsair SUV — and two Stellantis marques, starting things off with Chrysler.
The Jeep brand, meanwhile, is expected to show off two new battery-electric vehicles, the Wagoneer S and the Recon. And rounding things out will be Chevrolet, the bowtie brand likely to reveal to the public its upcoming Equinox EV.
A number of suppliers will flesh out what will be just a one-day media event this year, a far cry from the three days of reveals NAIAS routinely hosted in years past.
A fast-changing industry
But NAIAS will continue to highlight some of the changes facing the auto industry in years to come with its show-within-a-show, Automobili-D. Its two-day series of seminars will offer a look at the technologies set to reshape the transportation world. The Michigan Economic Development Corp. is sponsoring this year’s AutoMobili-D and plans call for 140 exhibitors, including 71 startups.
Industry insiders will also get a chance to get an advance look at the show this Thursday and Friday. On Friday night, the NAIAS Charity Preview will stage a return, with the show opening to the public on Saturday, Sept. 17, for an eight-day run.
To find out more about the 2022 NAIAS, and to purchase tickets for Industry Tech Days, the Public Show and the Charity Preview, go to www.naias.com.