Detroit Is Back, Baby! Auto Show Returns This Fall

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  • The North American International Auto Show—also known as the Detroit auto show—is returning.
  • Organizers have announced September 17-25 as the public days, with a charity opening Sept. 16 and press days Sept. 14-15.
  • The question is, however, will enough carmakers show up?

    Detroit is back, baby!

    And we’re not talking about all the development going on downtown, the shops, the restaurants, the yuppie condo encroachment. We mean the Detroit Auto Show, more formally called the North American International Auto Show. That sweeping event will return in September to Huntington Place, the venue formerly known as Cobo Hall, with supporting events held around the downtown area. The show will be open to the public September 17-25, with a charity preview Sept. 16 and press and tech days Sept. 14-15.

    After taking a real shellacking due to Covid and about a million other factors, the show’s return will be a welcome feature to downtown, and it’ll be held at a time of year when the weather might actually be pleasant. It might find a nice slot between the humidity and fish flies of summer and the ice storms and frozen dreariness of winter. The Detroit show’s old dates were traditionally in early January, when snowstorms raged, cabs got stuck, and flights were canceled.

    Rod Alberts, executive director of the Detroit Auto Dealers Association and the NAIAS, made the official announcement on Tuesday, during the 2022 North American Car, Truck, and Utility Vehicle of the Year Awards, also held in Detroit. The traditional, old-school Detroit auto show hadn’t been held since January of 2019, three years ago. The 2020 show was going to be moved to a June date but got canceled when government officials needed Cobo Hall for treating what was thought would be a wave of Covid-19 patients. A year later the 2021 show was canceled by the Delta variant of Covid-19. An event called Motor Bella was held at the M1 Concours in Pontiac, Michigan, last fall but had weather challenges, a subsequent low turnout, and it just wasn’t a Detroit auto show like all the Detroit auto shows of yesteryear. Last summer the auto dealers who put on the Detroit auto show held an event called the Motor City Car Crawl, with vehicles staged in six downtown parks in anticipation of similar events that will support the big September auto show. That event was a success, which bodes well for the big show coming this fall.

    Participating in an auto show costs an automaker somewhere over $5 million. And there are other marketing efforts that could benefit from that much dough.

    Bill PuglianoGetty Images

    Auto shows around the world have been taking hits, from Covid, primarily, but also from carmakers who may have found better ways to get the word out about their products. Like Detroit, the Tokyo Motor Show hasn’t been held since 2019 and there are no plans announced to hold it any time soon. The Frankfurt Auto Show, or IAA (Internationale Automobil-Austellung), left Frankfurt for Munich last year and featured a scaled-down event in six relatively small halls, all of which featured electric and alternative vehicles, including two of the six halls given over entirely to electric bicycles. The Geneva Motor Show, first held in 1905 and then annually starting in 1949, has likewise not been held since 2019, with the 2022 event canceled due to Covid and the chip shortage, organizers said. Geneva plans to open in 2023, according to its official site. The biennial Paris Motor Show managed to take place in 2020 and has announced October 17-23 dates for 2022. Beijing will go on April 21-30 at the China International Exhibition Center. Beijing also held a show in 2020. Auto Shanghai went off April 21-28, 2021, and has plans for another show in 2023. New York says it will open to the public April 15-24 this year. Los Angeles put a good face on the show it did manage to hold last November, but many of the major carmakers opted out. LA has listed Nov. 19-28 at the LA Convention Center for this year.

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    Indeed, just because a show goes on doesn’t mean major automakers will be a part of it. Attending an auto show costs somewhere over $5 million, once you pay everyone off. And there are other marketing efforts that could benefit from that much dough.

    So is the auto show back worldwide? It’s tentatively half back, but changing dramatically. If some new Covid variant wipes out the shows that are boldly planning for 2022, then it’ll be another tough hit to show organizers worldwide, maybe too tough. Targeted online advertising can far more precisely reach potential buyers and could easily take over from mass-market—and very expensive—events aimed at everyone, like auto shows. This year may be the deciding year for the great, old-school auto show. No more grey flannel suits, no more shrimp buffets measured in acres, no more fawning PR people laughing at all your jokes. It’s a brave new world, and it might all take place on the internet.

    Share your memories of auto shows past and your thoughts on their future in the comments below.

    Mark Vaughn grew up in a Ford family and spent many hours holding a trouble light over a straight-six miraculously fed by a single-barrel carburetor while his father cursed Ford, all its products and everyone who ever worked there.

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