Detroit auto show is pushed back again — to fall 2021

Kalea Hall
The Detroit News

Detroit — The Detroit auto show, which was supposed to move from January to June so that events could take place outdoors, has been moved again — to September 2021.

The summer debut of the North American International Auto Show had been planned for June of this year, but the COVID-19 pandemic pushed the annual extravaganza to next summer as the TCF Center was repurposed as a field hospital. It has now been moved to Sept. 28-Oct. 9, 2021, show officials said Monday, with the public show happening Oct. 2-9.

That will mean a nearly 33-month gap since the last show was held in January 2019.

The move comes after the Los Angeles Auto Show recently rescheduled its November event for May 2021, between the New York International Auto Show in April, and the planned show in Detroit in June, making it logistically challenging for automakers and vendors to traverse the country and set up shows in three different cities within such a limited timeframe. For that reason, analysts, auto companies and city stakeholders say the push to fall makes sense.

"It really created quite a tight schedule for the manufacturers," said Doug North, the chairman of the 2021 NAIAS who owns North Brothers Ford in Westland.

There are no other shows in North America in the fall, and the new date "also coincided with when many of the new model releases are in the fall, for the next year's product," he added. "So it really seemed to be the real sweet spot."

The fall show in Detroit will have the same product experiences that were planned for summer, including ride-and-drives and Motor Bella, a street festival celebrating Italian and British car culture.

NAIAS will remain a fall show going forward after the inaugural event in 2021, with show dates secured with the TCF Center for the next three years. Organizers secured dates toward the end of the month partly because of the International Motor Show in Munich, which is scheduled for the first full week in September.

Moving the show makes sense to Michelle Krebs, executive analyst at AutoTrader: "The way the calendar was looking ... there's a lot of jamming of auto shows, basically one in every month for several months, so in that way it's good."

A June auto show is really too early to show the following year's models, said Karl Brauer, executive analyst at — and it's also too late to show anything for the current model year. 

But fall is actually "the best time for them to do it," he said. "They've gotten away from the dead of winter that the show was in for so many years, which is not the best time to be in Detroit, but they're at the beginning of the fall next model year availability, so it's when the weather's the best, and it's when the new model introduction cycle's the best."

There will be a nearly 33-month gap since the last auto show was held in January 2019.

In 1961, the first year the show took place at the former Cobo Center, the event was held in October, North noted: "We're kind of coming full circle."

For years the show kicked off the year in the bitter cold of January. Organizers were encouraged to consider a shift to summer as a way to inject more excitement into the NAIAS as fewer global automakers participated.

The cancellation of this summer's show was a great economic blow for the city's hotels and restaurants, but Larry Alexander, CEO of Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau, already sees the potential.

Moving the auto show to fall not only elevates its importance but opens up the month of June for other events to take place in the city, Alexander said. And the weather should still be good enough for outdoor exhibits. 

When pushing before for a move from January to the summer, Terry Rhadigan, GM’s executive director of communications and corporate giving, said the automaker "wanted to showcase everything that's great about the city, and we wanted to do indoor and outdoor. September accomplishes that for us so we're very happy."

Ford Motor Co. confirmed it will be at all three North American auto shows in 2021. "This provides thousands of people — including families — an opportunity to experience Detroit and the auto industry's best offerings when the weather is better and auto companies like Ford can showcase their vehicles and technologies in a more festival-like atmosphere," said Mark Truby, chief communications officer for Ford.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles said: "Detroit will now stand alone in the fall, among the prominent domestic shows. This should prove beneficial for show organizers, consumers and manufacturers."

Glenn Stevens, executive director of MICHauto and the Detroit Regional Chamber’s vice president of automotive and mobility initiatives, called the switch to a fall show "a strategic and very strong move for NAIAS.  It's great for the city, the region and our signature industry here in Michigan."

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan also said he supported the decision to move to fall: "This will be the Motor City's first outdoor show and having it at a time that does not compete with others, and coincides with the release of many of the new year's models, will help make sure it receives the attention it deserves."

The 2021 show dates are:

  • Motor Bella: Sept. 24-26
  • The Gallery: Sept. 26
  •  Press Preview: Sept. 28-29
  •  AutoMobili-D: Sept. 28-30  
  •  Industry Preview: Sept. 29-30
  •  Charity Preview: Oct. 1
  •  Public Show: Oct. 2-9 

Twitter: @bykaleahall

Staff Writer Jordyn Grzelewski contributed.