New Detroit Auto Show Highlights Industry Shifts
As OEMs Change Focus, Dealers Could Step Into the Void
The kickoff to the rebooted, and slightly renamed, North American International Detroit Auto Show hit some snags. But it may have opened doors to what’s next for what was once the premiere event in the entire industry.
A visit from President Biden to promote electric vehicles did little to overcome the show’s smaller footprint, few significant new product reveals and reduced media presence. This turn should have been expected as other significant shows like Chicago have pivoted to focus more on consumers, as automakers produce more standalone events to announce all-new models.
This trend began before COVID and only accelerated as the tentpole auto shows in New York, Los Angeles and Detroit were put on hold.
Now, Detroit will likely shift to mimic the top regional shows in cities like Miami and Washington D.C. There may be a media element to them, but it will be primarily a place for customers to see the latest models all in one place. With limited inventory likely to remain for some time, this may become the top reason for people to visit.
There were also a few key trends that were hard to ignore at the show.
EV Hype Versus SUV Popularity
For every new electric vehicle on display, there were many more exceptionally large, traditionally powered new SUVs on the show floor. From Ford’s Bronco display to the Expedition Timberline, there was significantly more space given to large ICE vehicles compared to the F-150 Lightning and Mach E.
The same was true for other domestic brands, with Jeep promoting a future electrified line-up surrounded by luxury-like Grand Wagoneers. "General Motors had its all-new Equinox EV on hand but debuted a high-powered — and likely not too efficient — version of the Tahoe SUV.
In an enclosed space under bright lights it was hard to hide the conflicting approaches to transportation. It may have gone mostly unsaid, but the automakers know this is the way to satisfy consumers’ demands in the here and now while they pay for the electric future.
Detroit Loves Muscle Cars
It probably doesn’t need to be said that muscle cars are favorites in the Motor City. Ford chose the occasion to roll out its latest generation of Mustang — to the fanfare of hundreds of current owners of every generation rolling through downtown in honor of the unveiling.
Inside the show hall, perhaps no car on display received more attention than the Dodge Charger Daytona SRT Concept. It is the best example yet of how enthusiasts will be satiated by a clean powertrain promising extreme levels of performance.
Making the Auto Show a “Show”
If the fantastical concept cars and array of production reveals are absent from Detroit — and many other shows — something needs to fill the void. Detroit added indoor driving tracks, which have proven popular elsewhere but also decided to add kid-friendly dinosaur features throughout the hall.
That may have been jarring to media, but providing entertainment for all ages at an auto show that has become more practical isn’t a bad idea. Perhaps it would be better to create a theme throughout that could also serve dealers, like an outdoor theme so vehicles could be outfitted with accessories. Perhaps a throwback theme with classics sitting next to their current generation could be popular for the town in love with its four-wheeled history. There could even be success with something slightly ironic — a winter wonderland theme for the show, which now takes place in summer instead of frigid January.
What’s Truly Next
As we may mourn the loss of the media frenzy of the past few decades, it’s unlikely auto shows, including Detroit, are going anywhere. But there may be more pressure on dealers to not only supply shows with vehicles and man booths but also to promote the event as well. That may generate more dealer participation and allow for developing new ways of tracking customer interest as they start their purchasing journey.