Mayor tours auto show for 'One last time in the cold'

Ian Thibodeau
The Detroit News

Detroit — Mayor Mike Duggan said he was nostalgic as he walked through Cobo Center on Monday, a week ahead of the Detroit auto show's final January show for the foreseeable future.

"One last time in the cold," Duggan said before heading into the active construction zone that is the showroom floor. Forklifts wound through a maze of massive wood boxes and equipment as Duggan was led on a brief tour of the floor.

North American International Auto Show  Co-Chairman Doug North (left), Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and Cobo Center general manager Claude Molinari (right) take a sneak-peek tour as construction continues prior to the opening of the annual Detroit auto show at Cobo Center in Detroit, Michigan on January 7, 2019.


Show organizers expect around 30 vehicle debuts this year — that's down from 69 in 2018, due to a number of major European luxury-makers and other companies that have decided not to attend the 2019 show. Volkswagen is the only European make coming to this year's show.

North American International Auto Show organizers plan to move the show to June in 2020. They hope the change in date to give automakers and consumers more variety, and reinstate the Detroit show as a must-attend event for anyone in the auto industry.

Traditional auto shows in recent years have run into waning interest from automakers as the major companies move to hold independent press conferences for new vehicles outside of traditional shows.

Scott Manor of Iron Workers local 25 takes his lunch break on a stack of shipping crates in front of a 1959 Cadillac Eldorado covered by a clear plastic tarp on the show floor of the North American International Auto Show at Cobo Center in Detroit, Michigan on January 7, 2019.

This year, both Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Co. plan to introduce new vehicles at off-site events outside of the auto show press days.

Bill Golling, NAIAS chairman, said the final January show will still be exciting, though it does represent an auto show in transition. The 2019 show will have some new gimmicks that consumers will see expanded upon in the warmer weather come 2019, he said.

With the extra floor space available, Ford will offer test drives of its all-new Explorer on a closed indoor course, Golling and Ford officials said Monday. The Ford track will have a virtual-reality component. Another automaker is expected to offer test drives on the showroom floor, though the brand has not been announced yet. 

Construction continues on the Ford display at Cobo center.

Ford also added an obstacle course for the Ranger pickup. Toyota and Lexus also have larger footprints this year.

Show organizers have brought some mobility companies onto the main floor this year to help make up for empty space left by Mercedes, BMW and others that have bowed out.

"This is kind of typical for auto shows throughout the country," Golling said. "The move to June will help us better meet the needs for all the manufacturers."

For Duggan, who wrapped his tour of the Detroit show floor more quickly than in years past, the final winter show marks the end of an era. But he said he's looking forward to 2020, when show organizers and automakers will utilize warm weather for more outdoor events, and consumers will get to walk around downtown Detroit more.

"You're going to see just thousands and thousands of people on the streets in Detroit," Duggan said of what he expects when the show moves to June next year. "I totally support what they're doing."

Public days for the 2019 Detroit auto show will run from Jan. 19-27, including a family day Jan. 21, which is Martin Luther King Day. Tickets are $14 for adults, $7 for those 65-years and older and children ages 7 - 12. Children under 6 get in free.

Twitter: @Ian_Thibodeau