Detroit dealers, downtown partnership to host 'Motor City Car Crawl'

Kalea Hall
The Detroit News

Detroit — After canceling the North American International Auto Show for the second year in a row, the Detroit Auto Dealers Association is planning an outdoor car crawl with the Downtown Detroit Partnership. 

The two groups will host the Motor City Car Crawl, a walkable, city-wide charity event starting at noon Thursday, Aug. 5, and running through Sunday, Aug. 8. Detroit area dealers will showcase new vehicles throughout six downtown parks, including Beacon Park, Cadillac Square, Campus Martius, Capitol Park, Grand Circus Park and Spirit Plaza. 

Grand Circus Park at right in downtown Detroit, is one of six city sites where outdoor auto displays are planned as part of the Motor City Car Crawl this August.

A ticketed charity event on Saturday, Aug. 7, complete with live entertainment, would raise money for eight Detroit children’s charities. They include Boys & Girls Clubs of Southeastern Michigan, Boys Hope Girls Hope Detroit, Children's Center, The Children's Foundation, Detroit PAL, Judson Center, March of Dimes Metro Detroit and University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital.

The new event was announced Wednesday, a few months after the fall 2021 auto show was postponed for pandemic concerns. The first-ever summer auto show in Detroit — planned for June 2020, after at least years of taking place in January — also was canceled because of the pandemic. 

The last North American International Auto Show took place in January 2019. The auto show's media-and-industry preview week typically culminates with a black-tie charity event that also hasn't happened because of the pandemic. 

"The charities have always had a great opportunity at the auto show to raise some money," DADA Executive Director Rod Alberts told The Detroit News. "It's been a couple of years, and the charities have gone through some tough times. We just wanted to do an event in the city and try to do two things: raise some money for charities that we've worked with in the past and, second, we can help to jumpstart the city and the restaurants and businesses."

With the pandemic, "it just didn't seem in the cards to do something indoors" in 2021, Alberts said. The association is still working on its plans to bring back the indoor/outdoor auto show in fall 2022. 

"But ... why wait that long," he said. "Let's try to do some things now."

In addition to the Motor City Car Crawl, the DADA's leaders are planning a "Motor Bella" event at the M1 Concourse in Pontiac this September.

General Motors Co. will be participating in the Motor Bella, though it hasn't released details on what it will be showcasing at the event. The Detroit automaker hasn't made a decision on its involvement in the Car Crawl. 

"We’re just learning about the Car Crawl, and we’re pleased that the DADA is continuing their long history of support for children’s charities in our community," Terry Rhadigan, GM's executive director of communications operations, said in a statement Wednesday to The News. 

In a statement, Ford Motor Co. spokeswoman Jennifer Flake said: "We’re evaluating both opportunities and working through our plans."

Stellantis NV, maker of Ram trucks and Jeep SUVs, will be at Motor Bella, the company confirmed, but it still is reviewing what it will bring to the event. It was not immediately known if the company will participate in the Car Crawl. 

"In my world, and after doing a show like we've been doing so many years, which really worked out great and it's fun, but why not do some new things along the way," Alberts said. "Even the Detroit auto show could be reimagined, and we can make it something new and exciting and great for the city."

Detroit leaders were concerned about 2021's auto show cancellation since estimates say the show generates roughly $400 million in economic activity each year. In a statement on the Car Crawl, Mayor Mike Duggan said he was "grateful" to the leadership at the DADA and DDP for "creating this wonderful charity event that will benefit those in our community who need our support.”

The hope is to recoup some of the economic impact lost from the auto show cancellations. National estimates predict one in five small businesses downtown "will have been lost for good" following the pandemic, said partnership CEO Eric Larson.

"We fully anticipate that this event, along with a number of other things we're doing to activate the downtown throughout the warmer months, much less throughout the year, will continue to support those businesses that have been so deeply impacted by the pandemic," he said. 

The partnership and the association have so far only slated this year for the Car Crawl. Additional plans for the event haven't been decided, Larson said: "Those details are still being worked out."

But he said "whether it's the Motor City Car Crawl or the more traditional auto show, there will always be an auto-related event that really generates this kind of excitement in the downtown."

Larson has "no doubt" that the association has "every intention of continuing to support an auto show. I do think that, like everything, it is evolving," he said, adding that Detroit has the capability to support a show outside of a brick-and-mortar venue. 

The Car Crawl will have local food trucks, beverage stations and family entertainment. Ticket prices and the list of featured entertainment for the charity event will be announced soon. The vehicle displays and entertainment will be free throughout the weekend.

Twitter: @bykaleahall