Exotic cars return to the Detroit auto show in '18

Henry Payne
The Detroit News

When the Detroit auto show circus comes to town Jan.13-28, the exotic cars will be back under the big top.

Announcing their preliminary schedule for the biggest auto show in North America, show organizers confirmed that after an 11-year hiatus, the “Gallery” exhibit of showstoppers like Ferrari, Rolls-Royce and Bugatti will kick off festivities at Cobo Center with a display of 28 exotics. The Gallery exhibit will join exhibit displays from 31 mainstream and premium automakers from the U.S., Europe, Japan, Korea and China.

Coupled with the second annual AutoMobili-D tech display — open to the public for the first time, on Jan. 20-21 — the 2018 extravaganza promises more vehicles and technology than any exhibition in recent memory.

“I call ourselves the boutique international show,” says Rod Alberts, executive director of the North American International Auto Show. “We have everything you want to see under roof, from AutoMobili-D to technology to the cars. You can walk from one end of the building to the other in 10 minutes and see just about anybody, any car, any technology you want to see.”

The Gallery has traditionally kicked off the show on Saturday night before Press Preview week to an exclusive, invitation-only audience. This year its multi-million dollar stable will move from the MGM Grand Detroit to Cobo Center, where it will overlook the atrium at the south end of the complex. It’s part of the convention center’s recent $300-million upgrade that is transforming the show’s layout to a more interactive space than its traditional main-floor exhibit halls.

The transformation is appropriate as Cobo showcases a fast-transforming industry.

“Every auto show has its own style,” says Alberts, and the Detroit show has traditionally been a showcase for big horsepower and big trucks in the back yard of Detroit automakers known for their muscle. The 2018 show promises more of the same with the expected debut of the mid-engine Chevy Corvette, a new truck from Ram, and new SUVs from everybody.

But Detroit automakers like GM and suppliers like Continental are also leading an industry stampede toward greater ride-sharing and self-driving cars.

Enter AutoMobili-D as an international showcase for startups, venture capitalists and academics that are investing millions in technology that’s changing autos as surely as it has changed phones and retail. While manufacturers unveil their new steeds on the main exhibit floor during press preview days, AutoMobili-D exhibitors will crowd the first level with some 140 exhibits, 57 of them startups from 11 different countries boasting $157 million in investment capital.

This year the exhibits will not pack up and go home before the doors open to the public. Automobili-D will stay open Jan. 20-21 so that showgoers and job candidates can mingle with the exhibitors.

The Gallery will also move to main show floor for public week — though with a reduced space for about a dozen exotics.

The Detroit auto show packs plenty of punch to satisfy the estimated 5,000 journalists in attendance — not to mention the 800,000 members of the public who will walk through its turnstiles.

Like anchor stores at the mall, Ford, Fiat Chrysler, General Motors and Toyota will bring their mega-exhibits to the floor. There will be seven new exhibit constructions including Buick, Nissan, Subaru — and Chinese manufacturer Guangzhou, which showed three new vehicles at last year’s show and is testing the waters to be the first Chinese maker to sell in the U.S.

There will be plenty of eye-catching sideshows, too. The Four Tops will headline the Jan. 19 Charity Preview ball, the largest single-night fundraiser in the world. Since 1976 the swank evening has raised more than $112 million for southeast Michigan charities (including $5.2 million in 2017).

Another growing annual tradition is the Drive Home, which will feature a half-dozen vintage vehicles (including a ’69 Camaro and ’59 Plymouth Fury) from America’s Car Museum in Tacoma, Washington. They will “come home” to Cobo on Jan. 13 after a 10-day cross-country rally.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Catch “Car Radio with Henry Payne” from noon-1 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.

Detroit auto show

The North American Auto Show returns to Detroit’s Cobo Center in January. Here are some key dates:

Jan. 13: Gallery of exotic cars special event

Jan. 14-16: Press preview days

Jan. 17-18: Industry preview days

Jan. 19: Charity Preview ball, with the Four Tops

Jan. 20-28: Public show; the AutoMobili-D exhibit of technology is open to the public Jan. 20-21.

Tickets: Tickets for the Gallery special event are $250. Charity preview tickets are $400 ($390 of which is tax deductible). Tickets for the public show are $14, but ages 7-12 and 65-plus get in for $7. Tickets can be ordered online at naias.com/tickets