After the outbreak of the pandemic, the Detroit Auto Show restarts

Less glitz, better time.

The Detroit Auto Show, long a pillar of the winter that drew the top automotive industry and international media to America’s “motor city” ahead of a major public display, will meet this week for the first time since the pandemic. of COVID-19.

The event, conceptualized as a partly outdoor gathering, will highlight the growing class of electric vehicles (EVs) that are starting to hit showrooms, in what are still the early days of a long transition.

Without a Detroit show since 2019, the organizers of the event are giving the media and the public a chance to get a glimpse of vehicles they may have only seen virtually so far.

In another highlight, President Joe Biden plans to attend the show’s media day Wednesday to highlight policies to increase the adoption of electric vehicles.

But longtime attendees at the Detroit show are expecting a light fanfare affair.

In its peak years, the January event was known for free-flowing champagne and imaginative appetizers as CEOs of Detroit’s “Big 3” and international giants like Toyota and Mercedes-Benz unveiled sparkling new four-wheeled offerings.

The architects of the event, officially called the North American International Auto Show, are not trying to replicate the panache of the show’s previous incarnation in light of the profound changes since the last show in 2019.

“You can’t keep doing what you’ve done,” Rod Alberts, executive director of the Detroit Auto Dealers Association. “You have to take some risks.”

Unlike the winter show, audience attendees will have the opportunity to drive downtown by car. A “show over the show” will showcase emerging air mobility products.

But there’s a dearth of major new vehicle revelations, in part because foreign brands that once competed with Detroit’s Big 3 for the spotlight aren’t showing up.

“It’s going to be a very different show,” said Michelle Krebs of Cox Automotive, a longtime Detroit-based industry analyst. “The days when the auto show was a great media success are over.”

Detroit is far from the only show that addresses existential issues.

The Geneva auto show was canceled this year for the fourth consecutive time and will move to Doha in 2023, while the Frankfurt auto show has moved to Munich and has been reconfigured as a “mobility” event. Next month’s Paris show is expected to be smaller than in years past.

One major change relates to vehicle launches, with automakers discovering the benefits of virtual presentations during the pandemic, which are cheaper than major auto shows, forcing them to compete for attention with other automakers.

General Motors followed that route with its Equinox EV, revealing the long-awaited vehicle online and through an appearance by CEO Mary Barra on CBS News last Thursday, a week before the Detroit show.

“The way we reveal vehicles has changed in recent years to accommodate new ways to reach more people,” GM spokesperson Chad Lyons said, adding that the Equinox and other leading electric vehicles will be shown in Detroit together. to another new product introduction.

The biggest product reveal should be Ford’s seventh-generation Mustang. Trying to spark interest, the Michigan auto giant hasn’t said whether the car unveiled Wednesday is electric or an internal combustion engine.

The Mustang launch was first announced on Twitter in July by CEO Jim Farley. The company held a stampede at Detroit’s Hart Plaza of Mustang for the previous six generations, which began in Tacoma Washington and spanned nine states.

In addition to Ford and GM, Stellantis is also planning new vehicle events in Detroit, including a reveal Tuesday night near Huntington Place, the indoor venue.

Analysts expect shows like Detroit to continue to evolve from being media shows and return to their original function of allowing consumers to control vehicles.

“It’s still important as a consumer experience, a place where there’s no pressure and you can only see the vehicles,” said Jessica Caldwell, executive director of insights for automotive research firm Edmunds.

Even so, the Detroit show still saw 2,000 media subscribers from 30 countries, said Alberts, who believes the shift to electric vehicles means the show also offers audiences a chance to “understand these new technologies and feel more. at ease with them “.

Post-pandemic realities make predictions impossible, but Alberts said public participation of 500,000 people would be a success. At its peak, the event attracted more than 700,000 people, she said.

Analyst Krebs described the show’s prospects as a question mark. Holding the event in January, a season of bitter cold, coincided with a season when being inside made sense. September marks the return of American football during a season when people enjoy being outdoors.

“It will be a great test to get consumers when there are other things to do,” he said. “Let’s see what happens.”

© 2022 AFP