With some automakers touting electronic advances a week earlier in Las Vegas and others revealing models away from crowded exhibition floors, Detroit’s auto show finds itself competing as hard as ever to hold the spotlight.
The increased competition — and the winter weather — have led some to suggest the Detroit show be moved to warmer months.
CES, a Las Vegas consumer electronics show typically held a week prior to Detroit’s North American International Auto Show, has become a hotbed for automakers to unveil their most tech-forward vehicles.
Nine major automakers, including Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV and Ford Motor Co., attended CES to showcase their latest technologies and tech-savvy vehicles. The shows aimed at different audiences, yet attract the attention of the same industry officials.
The NAIAS press days and news coverage help draw attention for the show’s public days, which annually draw more than 800,000 people — and pump hundreds of millions of dollars into the city’s businesses.
Organizers of the Las Vegas show moved the date of next year’s show to Jan. 9-12 — the same period of time that press preview days for the Detroit show typically have been held. That would have caused many auto execs and those covering them to decide which show to attend. Instead, the 2018 Detroit auto show will move a week later on the calendar, with press days Jan. 14-16. That coincides with Martin Luther King Jr. Day, traditionally a holiday for the United Auto Workers and Detroit automakers.
NAIAS spokesman Max Muncey said the change of dates was a coincidence and the Detroit auto show “doesn’t feel pressure” from CES.
Rod Alberts, executive director of the Detroit auto show, said: “We actually have to schedule all this well in advance with Cobo Hall given the fact we have three months we’re in this building.” He said Detroit show organizers have not talked with CES about the dates. Of the King holiday timing, he said, “I don’t think it’s going to be an issue.”
Steve Koenig, senior director of market research for the Consumer Technology Association, which organizes CES, also downplayed the potential overlapping of shows. He said CES books its dates years in advance based on availability of its several venues. CES is scheduled Tuesday-Friday the second week of January through 2020. He said CES and NAIAS have overlapped in the past, but that it’s “certainly not planned or intentional.”
“In the trade show business, these things happen,” he said. “We have to book the dates years in advance and we modulate the days of the show basically because there’s not a perfect fit for everyone.”
More than the shows’ dates are merging. CES this year included more than 125 auto-related companies situated over 200,000 square feet. That compares to Cobo’s more than 700,000 square feet of auto displays, as well as a new technology showcase that is expected to expand in years to come.
New for 2017, the auto show introduced AutoMobili-D. Sunday news conferences included John Krafcik, CEO of Waymo, Google’s self-driving car project, among others. Those news conferences with automakers and suppliers continued Monday and on Tuesday, when attendance appeared to fall off significantly.
Geography a factor
This year, CES wrapped up just as press days for the Detroit auto show began. That caused headaches for industry executives and journalists who had to cover and present at both shows. It even limited some vehicles from being shown at both shows simply because of logistics.
Toyota Motor Corp. chose to unveil the Toyota Concept-i in Las Vegas. As a result, it is not being shown in Detroit.
“Physically, it’s not plausible because CES and Detroit’s right on top of each other,” Bob Carter, Toyota’s senior vice president of automotive operations for the U.S., told The Detroit News. “There’s just no time to get it from here to Detroit.”
Fiat Chrysler made time to get its Chrysler Portal concept from CES to Detroit by having it on the floor in Las Vegas only for one day. Company CEO Sergio Marchionne, who did not attend CES, on Monday said the company premiered it in Las Vegas because it was “the most appropriate audience” given the type of car.
“It’s really the next-generation of transportation,” he told reporters Monday in Detroit, adding the company “will hopefully” unveil the next-gen Ram 1500 next year in Detroit. “It wasn’t meant to be disrespectful of the Detroit auto show.”
A top General Motors Co. executive told reporters Wednesday in Detroit the auto show and CES should not be held so close together: “No, it’s terrible for you guys, it’s terrible for everybody,” said Mark Reuss, GM’s head of global product development.
When asked if Detroit auto show organizers should consider moving its dates, perhaps into June, Reuss said he did not know, but said if it did, it could tie into the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix.
“There’s a lot of people who complain about coming to Detroit because of the winter here,” Reuss said. “Maybe it’s time to take a fresh look at all that, and say what’s the best thing for the industry?”
Moving the show, however, would be nearly impossible, Muncey said, as it requires working with the organizing body for international auto shows. And set-up for the Detroit auto show typically starts in October and locks up Cobo Center entirely from around Thanksgiving through January.
The show historically has been held in early January to help drive showroom traffic to auto dealers in what is the slowest sales month of the year.
The Detroit show is sandwiched between the Los Angeles Auto Show in November and Chicago Auto Show in February.
“It works on the international auto show circuit for us to be in that January slot,” Alberts said.
There are no major auto shows in late spring and summer. A member of OICA, an international automotive industry group that coordinates with accredited international auto shows, said the Detroit auto show could be moved.
Gloria Berquist, vice president at the Alliance for Automobile Manufacturers, said June, for example, is open on the calendar.
Alberts said moving the Detroit show to another time of year would take years to do.
Claude Molinari, general manager of Cobo Center, said its five-year contract with the auto show expires in 2019. He said Cobo has dates booked for events in April, May and June going into 2023, and that if the auto show wanted to move to spring or summer, “it would be very difficult.”
Communications consultant Jason Vines — a public relations veteran who works for Nissan, Ford and Chrysler — said even before CES started attracting carmakers, he urged Detroit show officials to move to May, when the weather is nicer.
“I think if they’re smart, they’ll move it,” he said. “They don’t want to compete with (CES),” which he called the “shiny new object” for automakers.
Looking for exclusives
Regardless of when the Detroit show is held, automakers increasingly are opting to host their own auto reveals outside shows because they can have exclusive attention for about the same price of a show. Big, splashy auto show reveals can cost $1 million or more to put on.
“These press events we do are very expensive,” said Vines, adding automakers can spend millions on both show unveilings as well as their own events.
Vines said Chrysler regularly premiered vehicles on the eve of the Detroit auto show beginning in the early 1990s — a trend that a handful of automakers such as Mercedes-Benz and GM have been more than happy to continue.
“We started doing that 20 years ago, of doing our own events,” he said. “That’s going to continue to happen.”
But automakers increasingly aren’t even premiering their new cars in conjunction with a show.
Chevrolet opted to take the wraps off its new 2018 Equinox SUV in September at a Chicago museum, inviting a few hundred journalists and dealers. American Honda Motor Co. chose to roll out its redesigned 2017 Honda CR-V crossover in October at Detroit’s Eastern Market. Volkswagen AG held its reveal of its Atlas SUV in October on the historic Santa Monica, California pier.
And on Sunday this week, at least five automakers revealed vehicles off-site ahead of the official main press day of the auto show, while another held a backgrounder for a vehicle reveal.
Ford held a City of Tomorrow event in Joe Louis Arena on Monday to discuss its personal mobility efforts. That pulled some journalists from the show floor at a time when other automakers were rolling out their debuts. Ford also invited some journalists to an off-site event in Dearborn, which upset some journalists and automakers.
Jennifer Flake, executive director of communications at Ford, said the public symposium was attended by hundreds of government and thought leaders, students and some media.
“Media of course were invited to this if they had time,” she said. “But the primary objective was to reach others beyond those with whom we normally speak.”
She said the company moved its Monday and Tuesday briefings to Tuesday only to ensure they didn’t diminish other automakers’ announcements.
“Those OEM press conferences were only on Monday,” she said.
Flake said Ford is committed to the North American International Auto Show, and the company sees it as a valuable as way to connect with buyers and to share with media the story of what’s happening with its brands and newest technologies.