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Detroit Auto Show Gets Pushed Back Again

Bill Koenig
By Bill Koenig Senior Editor, SME Media

COMMENTARY

The North American International Auto Show, aka the Detroit Auto Show, has been pushed back yet again as the auto show format adjusts to new times.

For decades, the Detroit show has been in January. But the auto show business model was under pressure. The Detroit show saw some international automakers cancel their displays. The event lost some of its luster. Other auto shows experienced similar challenges.

The plan had been for the 2020 Detroit show to come out in June of this year. But that was before the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) upended things. The 2020 event was canceled.

Then, the Los Angeles Auto Show early this month said it was rescheduling from November of this year (when COVID-19 would likely still be a factor) to May 21-31, 2021, with media days on May 19-20.

So, on Sept. 21, the Detroit show announced the 2021 show will have its press preview in late September. That means it will be more than 30 months since the last Detroit show in January 2019.

So long summer Detroit auto show. We hardly knew ye. Hello, fall Detroit auto show.

The auto industry is in a jumble. Automakers are looking to increase their output of electric vehicles as well as self-driving vehicles. One notable newcomer, electric-car maker Tesla Inc., is worth more among investors than established companies such as Toyota Motor Corp.

The traditional auto show is expensive to produce. Automakers look to attract media to sites such as Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Geneva among other locations.

Automakers have become more selective about what auto shows where they want to participate. And that was before COVID-19.

With the pandemic, there have been more restrictions on large gatherings. Trade shows such as IMTS were forced to cancel this year because of such restrictions intended to curb the spread of the virus.

Still, this week’s announcement about the 2021 edition of the Detroit show is significant.

The Detroit show traditionally was the home turf of the Detroit-area automakers, General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and FCA US. And, until recently, major international automakers wanted to have their own presence.

Nevertheless, nothing stays the same. Social media has become more prominent in automotive marketing. Automakers have more alternatives to promote their vehicles than they once did.

The Detroit show, by moving out of January, is looking to have events both indoors and outdoors. It’s a way of freshening the format.

The auto industry is at the center of manufacturing and marketing changes. New technology and market conditions are spurring rapid changes among automakers and suppliers.

What’s next? Hard to say. But automakers and suppliers already were trying to keep up. In turn, auto shows are adjusting. The Detroit show’s announcement is only the latest indication of that.

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