Thirty years ago, a once-backwater car show suddenly became the most important event of its kind, at least in North America, but the North American International Auto Show has begun to see its shiny star tarnish, at least from the perspective of new car previews.
And that’s got the Detroit Auto Dealers Association, the sponsors of the annual event, thinking about whether it makes sense to continue staging the show in January. It won’t happen next year, the NAIAS media preview scheduled for January 14-15, 2019, with the public days running through the 27th. But 2020 might be an entirely different story.
“A critical part of being a sought-after global stage for companies is that we continuously evaluate future opportunities to make sure our show meets participating brands’ needs,” DADA spokesman Max Muncey told TheDetroitBureau.com. “We are exploring many opportunities for the show, with October being one of those opportunities. Ongoing discussions are underway with key stakeholders around the world.”
(Mercedes-Benz dropping out of 2019 NAIAS. Click Here to find out why.)
Why change the schedule for an event that has worked so well for three decades? At its peak, the NAIAS saw more than 70 new models launched during a three-day media blitz. While sponsors insist 2018 was “a very successful show,” with solid media coverage and strong public attendance, the actual number of new product debuts fell to barely two dozen. That’s a level not seen since the economic slump that marked the auto industry’s lowest point since the Great Depression – a point that brought the bankruptcies of both General Motors and Chrysler.
It isn’t just the NAIAS that’s been struggling. Chicago, Los Angeles and New York, which host the other three major U.S. shows, at least from a media preview perspective, have been struggling in recent years.
(For a complete round-up of 2018 NAIAS debuts, Click Here.)
“As competition increases and new opportunities to attract attention arise – such as social, digital and direct-to-user platforms – auto shows will remain one component of our communications campaigns,” Dave Reuter, Vice President of Global Communications Operations for Nissan Motor Co., told TheDetroitBureau.com in January. “The difference between fifteen years ago and today is that auto shows are no longer the only method by which to reach your audience.”
But the NAIAS has some unique problems that are proving especially difficult to overcome:
- In Detroit’s case, those “new opportunities” manufacturers are looking at include January’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, an increasingly popular spot for automakers to reveal their latest technology and high-tech models like the Chevrolet Bolt EV;
- Some automakers have become much more picky about staging costly media previews – or even putting up stands for public days – in markets where they don’t generate strong sales. Volvo and Mazda, as well as Aston Martin, Jaguar and a number of other luxury brands, were notably absent from the 2018 NAIAS. Mercedes has said it won’t participate in 2019;
- Then there’s old man winter. Detroit itself is in the midst of a major renaissance, but it’s difficult to tell when the temperature is in negative territory and a foot of snow has fallen.
While DADA brags that 5,000-odd journalists routinely attend the annual show, many come grudgingly and there’s little doubt there could be an even bigger turnout – and a lot more enjoyable an event – if the weather were nicer. Civic leaders would certainly like an opportunity to show off Detroit in a better light.
While the weather can be problematic in October it’s still a far cry from Detroit in mid-winter. Meanwhile, that would put the show more or less at the start of the traditional new model-year. And NAIAS would get a leg up on its traditional competitors, the Los Angeles Auto Show. It would also get a jump on CES, possibly stealing some events from both of those shows.
There are, however, a number of challenges that could make it difficult for the NAIAS to move:
- An October date would follow close after the big autumn European media extravaganza that alternates between Paris and Frankfurt in even and odd years, and would be just ahead of the Tokyo Motor Show. Foreign manufacturers might be reluctant to support such a move, or simply not have enough new products to support the media previews at all three shows;
- In January, Detroit gets a crack at products that will launch in the next model-year. This January brought previews of two dozen 2019 models. But October may simply be too early to reveal new models that won’t reach showrooms for as much as a year;
- Some folks in Detroit actually like having a big auto show in January, especially restaurants and hotels that get a burst of business at a time when they would normally be struggling.
Add the fact that the DADA has contracted with the Cobo Convention Center to hold the NAIAS every January through 2025.
If Detroit does move to October there’s some debate on how it would manage the change. Not that many years back, Los Angeles also switched dates – in this case from early January to November. It actually held two shows in the year it transitioned. But some speculate Detroit might put the show on pause, waiting from January 2019 until October 2020 to return.
Back in January DADA President Rod Alberts revealed his willingness to be flexible in an interview with TheDetroitBureau.com earlier this year. “It’s time for auto shows to make an adjustment,” he said.
The NAIAS now includes a variety of overlapping events, including Automobili-D, a conference which focuses on autonomous vehicles and other advanced technologies, as well as The Gallery, an invitation-only preview of exotic brands. Those could just as easily move to October, along with the media preview and public days, of course.
So, while it may be a while before organizers decide what to do, the idea of moving the NAIAS from frigid January is generating a warm response.
(Jaguar bringing new I-Pace electric SUV to Geneva. Click Here for a preview.)