4 Min ReadJune 2, 2022

Auto Shows Deliver a Vital Hands-On Shopping Experience

Auto Shows Deliver a Vital Hands-On Shopping Experience

Automakers are building some of their most exciting models in decades. Whether they are tough off-roaders, capable trucks, sporty coupes or electric vehicles, there’s something to match any car shopper’s needs and wants. Would-be buyers are just not always able to see these terrific machines in the flesh at the dealership, as they’re being sold at unprecedented speed.

That’s keeping shoppers at different points of the funnel away from the dealership to simply experience the car.

According to Peter Welch, National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) president and CEO, the average customer in 2005 visited a dealership 6.1 times before buying a new vehicle.

Now that number has fallen to only 2.4 visits.

Luckily, the auto show circuit has returned almost in full to help those shoppers see and — more importantly — sit in the cars they’ve been reading about on Twitter and Facebook.

It started with the Chicago Auto Show. The New York International Auto Show successfully returned in April and generated national media buzz. And now we’ve got a firm date for the return of the North American International Auto Show this September.

These shows, along with the dozens of regional events in Miami, Washington D.C. and more, are a major element in the car-buying cycle. More than ever, car shows can provide the interactive experience consumers want.

car show floor

Show and Tell

With inventory being low nationwide, it is often difficult for some potential buyers to get an up-close view of the car they want.

“We bought my new truck sight unseen. The reviews were good online and I’m happy with my purchase. But I would have loved to have actually sat in the car and held the steering wheel before I bought it. It felt a little risky to me,” explained Chris Wolf, who recently purchased a new vehicle in Orlando, Florida.

An auto show offers the perfect solution for someone who can’t find a particular vehicle on the lot. And as they have done in the past, these events give buyers the opportunity to evaluate several different brands at the same location.

The Twin Cities Auto Show in May gave consumers the chance to compare more than 600 vehicles side by side.

Attendees can fully experience vehicles as they sit down in the seats, grab the steering wheel, push buttons and get the overall general feel for how their new vehicle will suit them. At some shows there are even test tracks where shoppers can get behind the wheel or in the passenger seat.

Low Pressure to Purchase

The auto show is also the place for low-pressure shopping.

According to Dr. Richard Waterman, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, auto show attendees are twice as likely to make a new vehicle purchase within a year of attending the show than the general population.

Foresight Research indicated that auto show attendees cited show attendance as more influential on their purchase decision than digital advertising, direct marketing or event sponsorship.


By drawing in customers with this low-pressure approach, dealers can once again focus on the top of the sales funnel by gathering intel on which vehicles are at the top of shopping lists and why.

The Big Reveal

The pandemic accelerated automakers into debuting their newest models virtually and apart from the big auto shows. But while fewer models are debuting at the show, it’s still the first opportunity for most people to see a new model in person. You still see shoppers taking pictures of these cars all around the show floor.

A brand-new model is also an opportunity for automakers to woo customers away from the competition. 21% of buyers who attended an auto show purchased a vehicle brand that they had not previously considered.

In fact, according to the Foresight Research findings, 90% of people who were in the market for a car and attended a show said the show influenced the type of car they purchased.

car show floor

Strap on Those Sneakers

As we approach the new model year, it’s a terrific opportunity for dealers to take another look at how they can utilize their hometown show. Never before have auto shows been so important for displaying new models to the masses — and thankfully, they're back.

Dealers should put themselves in the comfy shoes of the show-goer as they navigate booth after booth. What will resonate with them and what will help them make the next step to purchase? Will you promote the show more than you have in the past?

It’s a terrific time to ask these questions and to think differently about how auto shows fit in with your approach to selling.

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Barb Edson
By Barb Edson
EVP, Chief Marketing Officer

Barb Edson is executive vice president and chief marketing officer at CDK Global.

Barb and her team focus on delivering successful marketing and commercial strategies that help strengthen connections across the automotive retail ecosystem for CDK, its dealer and manufacturer customers and the consumers they serve. She has more than three decades of business strategy and marketing experience in software and technology.

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