General Motors President of Cadillac Steve Carlisle revealed the Cadillac XT6 in January 2019 during the last Detroit Auto Show prior to the pandemic

Detroit Auto Show Reboots After Pandemic Break

General Motors President of Cadillac Steve Carlyle unveiled the Cadillac XT6 in January 2019 during the last Detroit Auto Show before the pandemic – Copyright AFP Patrick T. FALLON

John Beers

Less glitter, better weather.

The Detroit Auto Show, long a winter stronghold that drew auto industry executives and international media to America’s Motor City ahead of a major public show, will take place next week for the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic.

Reimagined as a partial outdoor gathering, the event will draw attention to the growing class of electric vehicles (EVs) that are starting to hit showrooms in the early days of the long transition.

With no show in Detroit since 2019, event organizers are touting an opportunity for the media and the public to check out cars they may have only seen virtually.

Another highlight is that President Joe Biden plans to attend a media day show on Wednesday to highlight policies to encourage the adoption of electric vehicles.

But longtime attendees of the Detroit show are expecting a fanfare event.

In its peak years, the January event was known for copious champagne and gourmet hors d’oeuvres as executives from Detroit’s Big Three and international giants like Toyota and Mercedes-Benz unveiled gleaming new four-wheel 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 earlier incarnation in light of the profound changes that have taken place since the last show in 2019.

“You can’t keep doing what you’ve been doing” – Rod Alberts, Executive Director of the Detroit Automobile Dealers Association. “You have to take some risk.”

Unlike the winter show, visitors from the public will have the opportunity to drive cars in the city center. Show Over Show will showcase new air mobility products.

But big new cars are scarce, in part because the foreign brands that once competed with Detroit’s Big Three for attention aren’t represented.

“It’s going to be a very different show,” says Detroit-based industry analyst Michelle Krebs of Cox Automotive. “The days of auto shows getting media attention are over.”

– Competition with virtual launches –

Detroit is far from the only show to grapple with existential questions.

The Geneva Motor Show was canceled this year for the fourth time in a row and will be moved to Doha in 2023, while the Frankfurt Motor Show has moved to Munich and has been transformed into a “mobility” event. The exhibition in Paris next month is expected to be smaller than in previous years.

One major change concerns car launches: during the pandemic, automakers have discovered the benefits of virtual presentations, which are cheaper than big showrooms, forcing them to compete for attention with other automakers.

General Motors took that path with its EV Equinox, unveiling the much-anticipated vehicle online and thanks to CEO Mary Barra’s CBS News keynote on Thursday – a week before the Detroit show.

“The way we showcase cars has changed over the past few years to accommodate new ways to reach more people,” GM spokesman Chad Lyons said, adding that the Equinox and other leading electric vehicles will be shown in Detroit along with another new product. introduction.

The largest product demonstration is expected to be the seventh generation Ford Mustang. In an effort to generate interest, the Michigan-based auto giant did not reveal whether the vehicle to be unveiled on Wednesday will be electric or internal combustion engine.

The Mustang launch was first announced on Twitter in July by chief executive Jim Farley. The company staged a stampede at Hart Plaza in Detroit, consisting of six previous generations of Mustangs, starting in Tacoma, Washington and moving through nine states.

In addition to Ford and GM, Stellantis is also planning new automotive events in Detroit, including a Tuesday night show near Huntington Place, a closed venue.

Analysts expect shows like “Detroit” to continue to evolve from being media spectacles to returning to their original function of allowing consumers to inspect cars.

“It’s still important to the consumer, a place where there’s no pressure and you can just see the cars,” said Jessica Caldwell, research executive at automotive research firm Edmunds.

Despite this, 2,000 members of the media from 30 countries still signed up for the Detroit show, said Alberts, who believes the switch to electric vehicles means the show also gives the public the opportunity to “understand these new technologies and feel more comfortable with them.” .

Post-pandemic realities make forecasts impossible, but Alberts said an attendance of 500,000 would be a success. During its peak period, the event attracted more than 700,000 people, he said.

Analyst Krebs described the show’s prospects as a question mark. Holding the event in January, during the season of extreme cold, coincided with the season when staying inside made sense. September marks the return of American football to the outdoor season.

“This will be a major test of whether you can attract consumers when there are other things to do,” she said. “Let’s see what’s going on.”

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