Amid tech shakeup, New York show is all about cars

Nora Naughton
The Detroit News
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New York — Technology is changing every aspect of the automotive industry — even auto shows — but this week at the New York International Auto Show, it was all about product.

BMW’s strong presence at the New York Auto Show follows announcements that it will skip Detroit’s 2019 show.

“There was lot of strong stuff,” said Joe Wiesenfelder, executive editor for “Not a whole lot of sizzle, but I think we’ve kind of gotten out of that expectation for auto shows.”

Big-hitters like Cadillac, Lincoln, Toyota, Nissan and Hyundai came to New York with products to feed the bottom line. Cadillac showed a new compact crossover, the XT4, and Lincoln showed a new Explorer-sized SUV called the Aviator. Nissan’s Altima, Toyota’s RAV4 and Hyundai’s Santa Fe represented new generations for those popular nameplates.

But automakers are re-evaluating the value of auto shows, increasingly opting for stand-alone product reveals or off-site events while finding more practical ways to ride the auto show circuit.

“Auto shows have gotten much more practical as automakers have become more practical and put their money toward real products,” Wiesenfelder said. “Over the course of the past 10 years, the traditional gee-whiz concept car has fallen by the wayside.”

That’s what made Hyundai’s Genesis Essentia concept vehicle — a performance EV prototype sculpted by a former Lamborghini designer — a standout.

“What Genesis needs is a couple of SUVs, but what auto shows need are concepts like that one,” Wiesenfelder said.

A lot of factors play into when and where automakers display their new vehicles, from product cadence to regional markets, so it’s hard to use product as a benchmark for an auto show. But a strong presence by luxury automakers Mercedes-Benz and BMW in New York this week follows recent announcements from these German brands that they will skip Detroit on the 2019 show circuit. Jaguar has skipped the last three Detroit shows.

The Detroit auto show suffers from comparisons to CES, the expansive technology show in Las Vegas the week before the Motor City’s biggest car show. That could be one of the main reasons why the Detroit Auto Dealers Association, which runs the Detroit auto show, is looking at a move to October.

New York faces changes of its own. The show is smaller in square footage this year, downsizing from three galleries to two — the main floor and a truck showcase on the lower level.

DADA spokesman Max Muncey said the Detroit show benchmarks itself with media coverage. U.S. media coverage at the 2018 North American International Auto Show was up 46 percent, while the CES share of U.S. media coverage was down 23 percent, according to PRIME research provided by Muncey. Coverage of the Los Angeles show had a 6 percent increase.

A spokesman for the New York show’s organizer could not be reached for comment.

The Detroit show had big product reveals of its own, with all of the Detroit Three using this year’s show to launch all-new pickup trucks. And despite Mercedes’ decision to skip Detroit next year, its G-class debut was among the biggest events associated with the Detroit show this year, headlined by Arnold Schwarzenegger and teased by a 1979 G-class encased in a cube of amber that sat outside the front door to Cobo.

The Detroit auto show has also tried to create a technology showcase of its own – the Automobili-D forum that runs during press days – amid comparisons to CES. The forum this year also ran into the first two public days of the show.

The New York auto show this week took a more classic approach, save a day of tech forums ahead of the press preview at Javits. And automakers were less inclined to talk about automotive technologies like autonomous and connected systems that normally dominate headlines in the wake of the first self-driving car fatality earlier this month.

Except for Waymo and Jaguar, that is, which announced this week at the New York show they are partnering to bring to market Waymo’s first premium self-driving fleet car: the all-electric Jaguar I-Pace. By the end of the year, the companies hope to have up to 20,000 vehicles testing on the road. By 2020, the Jaguars will become part of Waymo’s ride-hailing taxi service, set to begin this year.

“It’s really hard to get a read on this particular show,” said Wiesenfelder of this week’s New York show. “There must be a sweet spot between the overload that can result in how we remember Detroit shows and one of your less well-attended shows on the other end. You want to be where the media are, but on the other hand if there’s too much competition for the attention of the media, then you lose out.”

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